Numbers Don’t Lie… Why Canada Needs To Step Up In Supporting Women-Owned Businesses

By Silvia Pencak, President, WBE Canada

I am fascinated by statistics on women-owned businesses. Did you know that(1)

  • There were 950,000 self-employed women in Canada in 2012, accounting for 35.6% of all self-employed persons.
  • 47% of Canadian SMEs were entirely or partly owned by women.  
  • Approximately 51% of Aboriginal businesses were owned by women. 
  • Among established businesses (non-start-ups), the percentage of female entrepreneurs rose from 27% in the early 1990s to 33% in 2012.
  • Majority women-owned SMEs represented over $117 billion per annum of economic activity in Canada.

About 50 percent of all businesses today are started by women. However, small and medium-sized businesses owned by women earn less than half the revenue of comparable male-owned businesses, according to data from BDC client companies(2).

Female-led businesses, while tending to be smaller than male-led businesses, create more jobs and have higher survival rates when compared by their growth metrics.

But female-led businesses, even today, remain constrained by a number of key factors. Across the country, women voice their frustration with a lack of access to capital, ageism, sexism and harassment from investors and clients.(3) And added to that frustration, less than 5% corporate and government contracts are awarded to Canadian women-owned businesses. 

The opportunity and responsibility of governments and larger corporations lies in supporting women-owned businesses and removing barriers for them to enter larger supply chains as we move towards a more inclusive business environment. As Hon. Minister Champagne repeatedly said, “We can’t win when we leave half of our team sitting on the bench.” It is imperative that procurement opportunities become accessible to women-owned suppliers. 

How can supplier diversity help women-owned businesses? 

Supplier diversity is a commitment from government and large corporate organizations to track and increase their spend with Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) and other diverse suppliers. These organizations allocate resources to ensure that diverse (and many times smaller) suppliers get access to opportunities within their procurement to support the growth of diverse SMEs and ultimately the economy across the provinces. 

Supplier diversity councils like WBE Canada are founded by such corporations for the purpose of certifying businesses to prove that they truly are majority owned, managed and controlled by diverse individuals. The certification process is thorough and diverse suppliers must recertify annually to ensure that they still fulfill all conditions and are in good standing (e.g. taxes being paid). 

Certification is available to all businesses that meet the certification criteria. At WBE Canada, we certify businesses that are 51% or more owned, managed and controlled by women. We call them Certified WBEs. All WBEs are then listed in our database accessible by large corporate and government buyers. In addition to running a database we also provide training, support and events where WBEs can meet corporate and government buyers, learn about procurement opportunities, procedures and policies. In addition, they meet other women-owned businesses, some of them multi-million dollar companies themselves, ready to support and buy from smaller WBEs.

Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) certified with WBE Canada range from startups to multi-million dollar businesses. They are in a variety of industries, from manufacturing, construction, tech, transportation, to legal, consulting, or communications. 

Certification moves women-owned businesses beyond networking and training to direct access to conversations with corporate buyers. For women who used to look at the ballroom through a window it is the invitation to dance. For those who practiced their dance moves, this invitation is exactly what they need to succeed.  

To learn more about how WBE Canada certification can benefit your business please visit our website at If you are not a majority women-owned business, but still want to support Canadian women-owned businesses, learn more about our Corporate Membership at to help you get started. 

Meet Silvia Pencak

Silvia Pencak is the President of WBE Canada, Canadian non-profit organization that is opening doors for Canadian women-owned businesses to supply chains across North America. It certifies firms that are at least 51% owned, managed and controlled by women and introduces them to opportunities with large corporations. The organization also partners with governments, women’s business centres and other women-centric communities across Canada. Connect with Silvia on Twitter.


  1. Trade Commissioner Service, 2013
  3. Everywhere, Every Day Innovating. By Clare Beckton and Janice McDonald

This article was originally published in Canadian SME Magazine.