Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the 22nd
meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
Today, the committee is continuing its study on the economic leadership and prosperity of Canadian women.
Pursuant to an agreement made between the parties, the meeting will end at 4:45 p.m., which leaves us one hour and 15 minutes with the two groups of witnesses. The subcommittee will then meet.
I would like to welcome the witnesses we have here today. I would like to thank them for sharing their expertise with us.
I'm pleased to welcome Victoria Lennox, who I met at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology about a year ago, if I'm not mistaken. She is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Startup Canada.
We are also pleased to welcome Laura Cattari and Brenda Thompson, members of the board of directors of Canada Without Poverty.
Welcome to you all.
Ms. Lennox, you may start your presentation.
You have 10 minutes.
Good afternoon everyone. I'd like to thank the committee for inviting me to appear to discuss the prosperity of Canadian women. My comments today relate mostly to encouraging entrepreneurship amongst women and supporting women entrepreneurs.
I'd like to make a brief statement and then I look forward to any questions that you might have for me.
I am the co-founder and CEO of Startup Canada, a volunteer-run grassroots network of more than 80,000 entrepreneurs across Canada. We have 400 partners and 20 local Startup community hubs across the nation. Last Friday we celebrated our second anniversary as a start-up ourselves. Our network is made up of 40% women, and 15% of the organizations with which we partner provide focused services for women.
I am a serial entrepreneur and I am a woman. While in university, I founded a student club for women entrepreneurs, Oxford Women in Business, and today I support a number of women-focused organizations that support and enable entrepreneurship amongst women including Robogals in Australia, which teaches girls about robotics and innovation; Astia Europe, which prepares and trains female angel investors; and here at home in Canada I support CanWIT, which matches mentors and young women in technology.
I founded Startup Canada with the goal of helping Canada to become the best place in the world to start growing a business for both men and women. As the voice of Canadian entrepreneurs, Startup Canada leads a national grassroots effort to build a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem that will fuel prosperity.
In 2012 we completed a cross-country tour where we spoke to 20,000 Canadians in 40 communities to crowdsource our mission and mandate. Since then, Startup Canada's efforts have focused on uniting and strengthening our grassroots communities across Canada, from Fredericton and Winnipeg to Smithers and Nanaimo, connecting entrepreneurs online and off, undertaking initiatives to fuel a culture of entrepreneurship through storytelling and pushing forward the conversation through mainstream media, and stepping up as the voice of Canadian entrepreneurs.
Startup Canada is Canada's platform for the collective advancement of entrepreneurship. It's an economic development tool that we can leverage.
I know that this committee has heard that 14% of women solely own small businesses. At Startup Canada we promote women's entrepreneurship through mentorship and encouraging women to join support networks, accelerators, incubators, and other available programs that promote women entrepreneurship.
We know from StatsCan that small and medium-sized businesses make up more than half the business sector GDP composition in Canada. According to Stats Canada, 47% of women are willing to take the risk to start up a business, which represents an increase of 23% over the last decade compared to a 10% increase for men.
I believe that even more women would start their own business if we could provide them with the resources, network, and culture to give them a helping hand and help them eliminate some of that risk. This is the role that Startup Canada has stepped up to play.
At Startup Canada, we've made sure to nominate a woman engagement manager to work on improving women's entrepreneurship. We also ensure that women are proactively engaged, reflected, and represented throughout our programs and within our governance structure.
For the committee today, I'd like to finish off with five recommendations. I believe there are five things we could do better today to encourage greater participation of women in entrepreneurship.
First and foremost, we need to do a better job of supporting girls in getting involved in STEM topics—science, technology, engineering and maths—and an early business education through play, networks, and learning.
Second, we need to do a better job of encouraging awareness of relatable role models for girls and women. We need to do a better job of talking about them and celebrating them as part of the entrepreneurship environment.
Third, we need to encourage mentorship by supporting women in accessing mentors to help them start and scale their ideas.
Fourth, we need to facilitate access to support and networks by supporting women in connecting with each other virtually and on the ground, so that they can start and grow their companies.
Finally, we need to provide access to child care. Child care comes at a price and can limit the ability of a woman entrepreneur to go beyond one employee to actually scale their company and create jobs for Canada.
There is no central agency or organization connecting women entrepreneurs across Canada to support resources, networks, and to really champion and celebrate women from coast to coast. As a volunteer-driven organization, we are working to fill that role, but we could do so much more.
In closing, we support any investments or measures that foster an entrepreneurship culture in Canada. We believe that cultivating a better entrepreneurship ecosystem will lead to better jobs for women. The Canadian accelerator and incubator program and programs targeted towards women entrepreneurs and mentorship are good examples. We support investments that are meant to encourage women—especially young women—to become successful entrepreneurs.
Finally, Startup Canada and its 300 volunteers are working hard to promote an entrepreneurial culture in Canada, and this includes women's participation.
Thank you for your time. I welcome your questions.
Madam Chair and committee members, thank you for the opportunity to address this committee.
My name is Laura Cattari, and I am secretary of the board of directors of Canada Without Poverty.
Canada Without Poverty is a national non-partisan charity with a more than 40-year history of working to eradicate poverty. Of note is that all board members have lived experiences of poverty that guide our work.
Economic leadership and prosperity is an important conversation that must address what holds women back and looks to the future of all women. From personal experience and recent research I can say with confidence that women in poverty are not able to fully participate in economic life, nor are they able to seize opportunities available to individuals of higher income brackets. The barriers women face have not only a profoundly negative effect on themselves as well as their children, but also the broader economy where contributions are either stifled or not counted, resulting in outright exclusion.
My own story is a case in point. At the peak of my career I built digital cable networks, led research and development teams, and wrote industry white papers. I was a consultant to major cable corporations; in short, an industry leader. I was also the only female among my peers. In January of 2003 I was declared officially disabled with stress-related illnesses. Could the outright discrimination I fought over the years and other challenges of a male-dominated environment have triggered this? Or perhaps it was the accumulation of stress from persistent childhood abuse, including sexual, which 20% of Canadian women face before the age of 18? The contributing factors of stress-related illnesses are well documented and gender does play a significant part.
With disability came poverty and economic exclusion. Yet despite my apparent disability, I am still articulate, intelligent, and capable of participating in my community and the economy, garnering a woman of distinction nomination from my peers. What holds me back from escaping poverty and moving forward is not my illness, but a disability of individuals and government systems. These are barriers that many women in my position face. In Canada, 75% of women with disabilities are unemployed.
To achieve success my needs are simple: adequate amounts of nutritious food, and affordable housing in a safe neighbourhood that isn't trolled by those who prey on vulnerable women. I also need the societal violence against women, which shapes language, attitudes, and behaviours, to stop psychologically affecting self-esteem and self-respect so that I no longer hear young women at leadership summits tell me they do not feel they are enough.
In terms of employment I require a system that rewards providers for supporting me to be the leader I am, and not as a part-time worker at minimum wage, where women currently fill the vast majority of positions.
I need to be able to form a life plan for my lifelong illness, with adequate income supports in times of need. I applaud current programs such as the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities, which supports part-time post-secondary education to accommodate my illness. What it does not support, though, is part-time employment. This fails to take into account part-time opportunities that also have the potential to raise me out of poverty, and my inability to state the goal of full-time employment excludes me from that program.
I am aware of various federal government programs to support vulnerable people, but not all are necessarily within reach. Inaccessible post-secondary education leaves me uncompetitive in a new field of employment. I am essentially left out of the economy and cannot reach prosperity even though I am willing and able to participate on a meaningful level.
In conclusion there are two specific recommendations I wish to make. First, adjust the qualification restrictions on the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities and other post-secondary programs so that those unable to work full-time can apply. Second, establish a portable federal rent supplement program to ensure access to adequate safe housing as well as mobility.
Imagine for a moment a national mandate in which the least privileged women are put first, strengthening the potential, prosperity, and equality of all women in Canada.
Good afternoon, Madam Chair, committee members, and all others present.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences and to address this committee, and to thank you for continuing to work on the very important topic of women's leadership and prosperity in Canada.
I come to you with my credentials as the VP of Canada Without Poverty, as a non-profit worker in a women's resource centre, as a former low-income single mother, and as author of the “Single Mothers' Survival Guide” for Nova Scotia.
I grew up in a rural family that was very poor. My parents married young, and worked hard to move us into the middle class in Nova Scotia. At the age of 20, I had a high school education and was a waitress when I became pregnant with my first daughter. Her father left me in my third month of pregnancy and never participated in our lives again. He also did not pay child support, and was not made to pay child support.
When my first daughter was nine months old, I attended community college and got a two-year diploma in hospitality management. My student loan for these two years went to pay my child care. After graduating second in a class of 55, the only job I could find was as a waitress—again.
After two years of working as a waitress, with my family providing child care, two things happened. I was offered a subsidized child care spot in a local day care and I was offered a home in a CMHA-funded housing co-op. I decided to take the leap and get a better education to try to get a better job. I took a B.A. in women's studies at Mount Saint Vincent University and an M.A. in sociology at Acadia University, graduating with a 4.3 GPA with my M.A. in sociology.
These two programs, subsidized day care and affordable social housing, helped me immensely to achieve my goals of a better education. Without the child care of $35 a month, I could not have afforded to attend university. It also gave my working family members a much-needed break after years of filling the gap of child care.
The subsidized social housing co-op gave me an affordable, warm, safe home for my daughter and me. In addition, it gave me a sense of community with our co-op meetings and social events such as picnics. The people in the co-op were just like me, working hard to make a better place for our families and for our communities.
I graduated and went on to get decent paying employment in my field. Many years later, I found myself unemployed and a low-income single mother living in rural Nova Scotia, but this time I had an education and child support. In rural Nova Scotia, however, it is very difficult to find a decently paid job in any field. I had to stay in the area for parental access and custody issues with the other parent, which left me in a difficult position. I took whatever jobs I could find that I could do from my home while taking care of my child. For more than a year, my second daughter and I lived on $800 a month, as the only jobs that were available outside the home would not even pay the cost of child care, which was $500, and rent, which was another $500 a month, plus all the other expenses related to housing and child rearing.
It was only when my daughter was four years old that subsidized child care became available in our local town day care. I snapped up the opportunity, and then could take a job that did not pay very well but enabled me to participate in the economy and go back to work full time. These two very valuable programs enabled me to move my daughters and I into full participation in the economy, our culture, and our democratic process. Without these two programs, I believe we would still be mired in poverty and struggling to make ends meet.
Based on my experiences, I would like to make the following two recommendations: one, a national child care strategy that would make child care affordable and accessible to traditional and non-traditional family units, regardless of where they live; and two, a national housing strategy that enables women to have safe, adequate, and affordable housing.
I thank the committee for taking the time to listen to me. I would like to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Welcome, and thank you for sharing your stories.
Thank you for informing us a bit on Startup Canada. I'm somewhat familiar with Startup Canada, because I've met and have been speaking to Joel Adams and Amanda Stratton from Startup London. They do a lot of great things. You're doing a great job with the 800,000 members that I think you said you have; that's really wonderful.
Ms. Lennox, I can't remember if you said this or if I had read this, but I think you said that you've facilitated the mentorship of 20,000 entrepreneurs, running activities and daily events. How do you facilitate memberships of 20,000—or any other number, for that matter? Is it online, is it by phone, is it one on one, or do they meet in the same city?
Across Canada, there are mentors who are supporting entrepreneurs. Sometimes a mentor in Medicine Hat is exactly the right mentor for an entrepreneur in Fredericton. Sometimes it's online entrepreneurship. Other times it's supporting existing mentorship events that are already happening.
Every year, during Global Entrepreneurship Week, in November, we run something called the Canadian Mentorship Challenge. We partner with organizations across Canada—from rural Nova Scotia, in Truro, to Toronto—to encourage mentorship to happen and to encourage those connections. We also run programs online every week, through Twitter, Facebook, Google hangouts. It's any way that we can connect entrepreneurs with each other so that they can make meeting connections.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
First, I would like to thank all of the witnesses for their testimonies and for sharing their points of view with us. As a woman, I care deeply about this.
My first question is for Victoria Lennox.
You know that entrepreneurship is central to job creation, economic growth and prosperity. The matching that Startup Canada does between companies just starting out and investors is extremely important. You also just mentioned that, in 2012, you travelled to 40 communities across Canada to raise funds through crowdsourcing.
It was noted that female owners of start-up companies had difficulty finding funding. Why do women have more difficulty with this compared to their male peers? Could you please explain that to us?
There have been studies from Barbara Orser at the University of Ottawa that really document the financing gap for women entrepreneurs, particularly as that relates to angel finance and venture capital finance, when they go beyond the banks in order to solicit equity finance.
I don't have the stats in front of me, but statistically, men will invest in other men, so having men investors who understand women entrepreneurs and who will invest in them is very important. The National Angel Capital Organization, based out of Toronto, is doing a lot more in terms of educating male investors about investing in female ventures, as well as encouraging and elevating the acumen of female investors to invest in female entrepreneurs, but there's a long way to go.
I think what's really great in terms of developments is that now you have great opportunities through crowdfunding, with Kickstarter and Indiegogo, for entrepreneurs to access alternative finance. I think that's great, but I think there's still a gap as it relates to equity-based finance for female start-ups.
At the provincial level, I think the province that stands out in terms of facilitating women entrepreneurship is the Province of British Columbia. I think Quebec does some excellent work in that area as well. I think that across the Prairies there has been more consolidated effort in order to facilitate these types of things, but I think it's still fairly nascent. These programs are no more than five years old and their impact hasn't been measured, so there's still a lot of work to do.
Do I think we're doing enough? Absolutely not. You can see the gap. Do I know exactly what to do? The answer is no. I think there needs to be just a bit of further study, but I also think we need to test different things, see what works, iterate, and move forward with things that do work.
I think what you see here, especially with this next generation.... We call this a start-up generation, these young people who want to start their own companies, so I think that with them it doesn't require a lot of government financial support. But what it does require is encouragement, incentives, and positioning role models, so that it can be an aspirational goal for young women.
There are other organizations like Startup Canada across the world. There's StartUp Britain, Start-Up Chile, and Startup America. When I was seeing what they were doing, it was very top-down government led, and I actually felt the government was doing an okay job supporting start-ups.
I came back to Canada through the recruitment of policy leaders program and I worked at Industry Canada. I felt, well, there's stuff we can do, but actually we need a culture shift, and that has to come from the bottom up, mobilizing entrepreneurs. One of the biggest challenges Canada faces is our geography, so we need to really connect the ideas and connect the different pieces. We are far too small of a population to be so siloed, so we really need to leverage resources.
I felt a lot of the work that needed to be done had to happen on the ground floor with entrepreneurs connecting with each other, so that's what we set out to do. I feel like I'm a public servant working outside of the public service, and that's what motivates me to continue to drive Startup Canada. It's really just connecting the pieces so that we can move forward faster together.
There are a number of recommendations around accessing adequate food. One, it does come down to income, whether there are social transfers to provinces that are adequate for funding social programs, or something that comes through the federal government. It becomes particularly important to make sure that we keep local farming alive and well, so that fresh food is available locally that isn't at a higher cost.
Unfortunately, while relative inflation has stayed low, in 2012, the cost of fruits and vegetables went up 6% to 13%. This makes it very difficult to maintain adequate nutrition on the Canada pension or a provincial pension. I think that would be the most important part of that.
The next thing is the way people buy food, and it does lead into housing. It's a very bizarre thing. When you have low income, you end up living in the unpopular areas. They're usually what's called food deserts. You end up buying at stores that really aren't supermarkets. The food is overpriced and really malnutritious. Ensuring people can live in areas, mixed income areas, where you would have good grocery stores becomes really important, and comes down to setting regulations around planning in cities as well.
Thank you for the question.
The link between success and opportunity is really important to understand, and I believe Ms. Lennox touched on this. Without exposure, and especially in young children's lives—exposure to opportunity, to ideas, to growth—leadership, ownership, entrepreneurship do not become options. They're not on the horizon. When you have teenagers in areas where deprivation exists, unfortunately thinking ahead to big and bright futures is not what they're thinking. They're thinking about getting enough money to eat, getting enough money to have a roof over their head, maybe adequate clothing, and a phone. They're really not thinking about the big picture and long term.
I can send into the committee some hard numbers on entrepreneurship, or at least post-secondary numbers for you.
I would appreciate that very much. Thank you.
I will continue along the same lines. The family model has something to do with it, but so does the community model. You spoke about mentors, which are very important on the smaller scale of the community.
Ms. Thompson, you just mentioned housing. I think that this is what's happening in many places in Canada. There is a concentration of disadvantaged people in my riding, for example. The NDP just proposed a national housing strategy to help people in that situation.
There is a food desert in the Saint-Pierre neighbourhood in my riding. A lot has been said about it. A co-operative was formed to create the Saint-Pierre market. I congratulate that co-operative for all its work. It needs to be said that people don't always have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In our society, it is much cheaper to buy chips and Coke than milk and oranges. It's really frustrating.
Do you have any solutions to this problem? What should the federal government be doing? What role do we have to play as parliamentarians? Do you think we could help solve this kind of problem?
Victoria Lennox, I wanted to give you some free time to paint a picture and tell us how to create better mentorships for women, access to networks for women, and also child care access for women. Those were three, four, and five, on your list. I didn't write down the first two, sorry, but I have the other three.
Take some time, please, and tell us how to do this because this report will be a guide for provinces, women, all kinds of people and groups across Canada, on how to help women become entrepreneurs.
I think it was the grassroots. I think if I had sat in my cubicle at Industry Canada and said, “I want a women's initiative, and I'm going to do it from here”, it wouldn't have worked.
It's community-based. At Startup London the co-leader is a woman. She's engaging other women. They're engaging each other. In Toronto we have a woman of colour taking the lead. That community is full of women of colour because she's bringing in all of her friends. The peer-led engagement is just really powerful. In Charlottetown we have entrepreneurs in the biotech industry, so now we have a big biotech cluster for Startup Canada there.
It's peer-led grassroots. The way we work is that it really is bottom-up insofar as we encourage local development. You'll never see Startup Canada develop a national policy and impose it on our communities. It really is kind of bottom-up. When government gives us the opportunity, as they have today, to sit at the table—thank you so much for having me—we engage our communities and say, “What do you want us to say? We have this really cool opportunity.” We also put the ask out on Twitter.
It really is bottom-up. What's worked for us—this is how we've engaged aboriginal entrepreneurs—is just that peer-led, making sure they're part of our network and are bringing their networks in. Then they see it as a platform for them.
Maybe I can just explore this a bit more, because I think we're now drilling into how we actually make this function.
One thing that I noticed, too, moving through the ranks as a businesswoman, was that I always said I wish I'd known at 25 what I knew when I was 35—namely, that I had all the skills at 25 to do the same thing—and that I wish I'd known at 35 what I knew when I was 45.
I think one of the things that can help us there is mentorship, but then again, women tend to be—perhaps you'll disagree—somewhat wary, I guess, of authority and joining something that they perceive to be kind of a big monolithic organization. They like small organizations.
We were just musing about whether some kind of a national mentorship registry might be a way to go, and I think we've heard a similar thing suggested here. Do you think that is a way to go, or is it more facilitating some kind of crowdsourcing local thing that will actually pair women, one on one, with somebody else who's successful, and they can go for coffee at, you know, the little art gallery or entrepreneur café thing?
I'm so sorry I only have five minutes because this is such an important and great subject matter. I want to thank each of you for coming out and sharing your personal experiences with us, which is deeply personal obviously.
For myself, I am also an entrepreneur. I owned my own consultancy business for 18 years. I also developed and established Canada's longest-running breakfast program. It's in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, which is where I'm from, in British Columbia.
I'm also a sociologist. That's my background. I've spent 25 to 30 years doing social policy at all the different levels of government, from municipalities to the provinces to the federal government as well, prior to being elected an MP. I just wanted to say that child care, as you all know, is a provincial responsibility.
So what has been interesting in this discussion here, having been a mother, an advocate, a community person who has developed grassroots programs in the Downtown Eastside from the ground up, having fostered seven children—and I'm a foster grandmother as well in the Downtown Eastside. I've also done macropolicy at a sociological level with $5-billion programs across Canada.
There seems to be this sort of interesting play from where, Victoria—if you don't mind me calling you that, Ms. Lennox—is saying that we need to be grassroots, we need to come from the ground up because that is where people are going to become engaged. That has certainly been my experience in developing not just breakfast programs but youth at risk programs, all kinds of programs for local community across Canada.
Secondly, though, I am hearing you that the federal government obviously has a role. We do have a very strong women's network that the is putting together and has led. We are doing international things in terms of child and maternal health as well as through the United Nations International Day of the Girl, and even with this study.
What I'm trying to ask is, where is the middle ground? Where is the low-hanging fruit? We do want to move forward with this. We're very thrilled that there's so much activity, obviously, in the women's sector regarding business development, etc. You're right, Victoria. We're a very large country geographically with a very small population spread across it. Where's the low-hanging fruit?