Leveraging Procurement to Advance Diverse Women Entrepreneurs

Originally published in the WBE Canada Magazine; Issue 5. Don’t miss our next issue on June 8, subscribe to our magazine HERE.

By Dr. Wendy Cukier, Diversity Institute Founder, Academic Director of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub and Research Lead of the Future Skills Centre


Governments and corporations are among the largest buyers of goods and services in Canada. Public procurement alone represents more than $200 billion in economic activity across the country every year.

But women and diverse entrepreneurs continue to struggle to attain their fair share. According to the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub’s State of Women Entrepreneurship in Canada 2021 report, while many large Canadian organizations have diversity and inclusion strategies, these often ignore diversity procurement policies and mechanisms. Where large organizations have formal commitments and incorporate gender and diversity criteria into their procurement, they do not provide any data on how they actually spend their funding.

WEKH research suggests that this is a challenge on both supply and demand sides: Government and large corporations need to put their money behind their good intentions, establish real targets and simplify processes to ensure that women and diverse suppliers can actually fulfill them. The processes for a $200,000 contract should not be as cumbersome as those for a $1B project. Recognizing many women-owned businesses are small and new, ensuring expectations for diversity are established for tier 1 suppliers can help women gain experience and grow their businesses through subcontracts. It is one thing to publish a target, but quite another thing to meet it. More transparency and accountability is needed on how governments and other large organizations actually spend their money.

Many women entrepreneurs are not fully aware of the large procurement opportunities presented by government and large business and often they are not part of the usual supply chain networks. Procurement processes, even for relatively small contracts, are often unnecessarily complicated, labour intensive, and complex and many women entrepreneurs do not have the resources, experience or supports they need to navigate them. There are also inconsistencies in definitions of what is meant by a women-owned business. Some programs targeting women have had loopholes that certification processes, such as those provided by WBE Canada, aim to address.

The Canadian government has made a commitment to increase the participation of women-owned and led businesses in federal procurement from 10% to 15% by 2023 but more is needed to ensure this goal is realized. Other programs aim to advance opportunities for Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs and are exploring opportunities for entrepreneurs who are LGBTQ2+. Its Supplier Diversity Action Plan is an important step in moving the agenda forward.

WEKH continues to lead evidence-based approaches to build capacity. The WEKH Procurement Resource Guide defines key terminology and houses an informative webinar series, research on perceptions of supplier diversity, and resources to support diverse women entrepreneurs seeking and competing for procurement opportunities. While considerable attention has been focused on increasing access to financing and loans for women entrepreneurs, helping them access and grow markets is fundamental to supporting their success.


Dr. Wendy Cukier is the Diversity Institute Founder, Academic Director of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub and Research Lead of the Future Skills Centre, and one of Canada’s leading experts in disruptive technologies, innovation processes, and diversity and inclusion. The Diversity Institute works with partners on projects aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion in leadership, entrepreneurship, and future skills. Wendy leads the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, funded by the Government of Canada which promotes inclusive supports for women and other diverse entrepreneurs. She has helped create and grow several successful startups and social ventures including Flybits, Think2Thing, the Madeleine Collective, and Growing North (now Green Iglu).

Wendy received many awards including a YWCA Women of Distinction Award, WXN most powerful women and, most recently was named one of the International Women’s Forum 2020 Women Who Make a Difference. She has an MA, MBA, PhD and two honorary doctorates.