Patricia Faison Hewlin is an associate professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University.
The Gender Equality Advisory Council for Canada’s G7 presidency has a mandate to advise the G7 on the development of actionable steps for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. One of its core priority themes is to prepare women for jobs of the future. The World Economic Forum estimates in its 2016 Report that 65 per cent of primary-school-aged children will take on jobs that are currently not yet created. Preparing girls and women to meet the demands of the ever-evolving global environment is critical, and it must be met with solutions for closing gender gaps in pay, employment and occupations.
Within the G7’s priority theme of preparing women for jobs of the future, there must also be a continued commitment to empower women and girls through business ownership and facilitate their ability to garner resources for building their businesses. For example, although women entrepreneurship is on a steady rise in Canada, and entrepreneurial activity in Canada is second only to that of the U.S., relative to men, women face significant barriers to successfully competing in the marketplace, such as securing access to capital. This is not an issue unique to Canada, and globally the issue is magnified, particularly in developing countries. In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged $20-million to the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), a partnership among 14 countries, eight multilateral development banks and other public and private stakeholders to address financial and nonfinancial barriers to success among women entrepreneurs in developing countries. Several G7 countries are founding financial contributors.
Beyond financial resources, this year’s summit is an opportunity for the G7 to shape policy that addresses the challenges women entrepreneurs face to gain entry to public- and private-sector contracts domestically and internationally. Formal and informal efforts on the part of business and government to increase supplier diversity (the purchase of goods, supplies and services from women and minority-owned firms) give women entrepreneurs the opportunity to compete on a level ground for entering supply chains, where their products and services can become an integral part of the business process of an organization (the buyer). The development of solutions that ensure equal access to public and private sector contracts can contribute to long-lasting benefits such as job creation for women, and economic empowerment in diverse communities worldwide.
A focus on equality and empowerment through business ownership for women should also include a renewed commitment to supporting research that not only sheds light on persistent barriers, but also on factors that lead to business success. Research can shape knowledge-based solutions on a wide range of issues such as best practices for integrating supplier diversity programming in private and public organizations, as well as training processes. The commitment to supporting research must include a mandate for studies and reports that take into account the unique experiences of women business owners who hold different identities – such as, but not limited to, religion, race, culture, sexual orientation and physical ability – that influence how they are treated by others. The G7 Public Engagement Paper highlights the importance of these intersectional factors and their impact on the ways women experience discrimination and oppression. The G7’s support of research that is conducted with an intersectional lens can establish an important foundation for advancing gender equality and empowerment solutions.
The G7 summit comes with great anticipation for promoting gender equality and empowerment. The priority theme of preparing girls and women for jobs of the future should centre on economic empowerment through employment as well as business ownership. The global economy benefits when businesses led by people of all backgrounds succeed in their endeavours.