Dr. Anne Niec is president and Dr. Beverly Johnson is president-elect of the Federation of Medical Women in Canada, a non-profit organization committed to empowering female physicians at all stages of their career.
The number of women practising medicine in Canada has increased significantly over the last 20 years. Female physicians join the ranks of other women entrepreneurs who operate as small businesses in Canada. We celebrate the victories they have made in following their dreams against all odds, and we stand with them against the unfair tax changes proposed by a government that dares call itself a feminist one.
The current changes proposed by the federal government challenge the economic security of small-business owners in Canada and, in particular, negatively affect women as child bearers and primary-care providers for their families. That’s why we’re marching to Parliament Hill on Sept. 16, to take our message to the Hill that women small-business owners have enough to worry about.
As physicians, we see the burden of care placed on women that comes from their role as mothers and daughters. Female small-business owners face particular challenges that affect them in these roles, especially given the 24/7 nature of the small-business environment and the commitment and dedication it takes for those who start a small business to succeed.
Yet despite the challenges and risks, women are starting their own businesses at increasing numbers. Women who begin small businesses are typically young, in their child-bearing years, and, as women, they typically make less money than their male entrepreneurial peers. The wage gap is everywhere.
According to the Canadian Trade Commission Service, 35.6 per cent of the self-employed work force in 2012 was comprised of women, with a greater concentration in some sectors, such as professional services, accommodation and food services. The number of women with postsecondary education has increased to 71 per cent in 2013 from 43 per cent in 1990. It should be no surprise that women are making huge inroads in the small-business sector.
Yet, all is not equal for women entrepreneurs.
When a woman starts a small business, she hires staff to manage her office and assist with clients or patients. Incorporation allows her to pay her staff, buy office supplies, rent space and pay for all the other expenses incurred by small businesses across the country.
When it’s time to have a family, incorporation allows a woman small-business owner to plan for her maternity leave. For small-business owners, the business doesn’t stop when the baby comes. She is still responsible for maintaining her office, employing her staff and arranging for client coverage, or else her business risks failure. Many women small-business owners are single women; others may be the sole income earners in their families.
When it comes time to retire after a long career serving her clients and community or patients and their families, incorporation allows her to invest in her future so she can retire without financial worry. As women typically face greater levels of income insecurity at the end of their working lives and into retirement, this should be particularly worrying to a feminist government. This legislation will continue to disadvantage women well into their old age.
Women small-business owners are faced with myriad challenges on the road to success. Working long hours and keeping their staff employed while feeding their families can take a toll on a person. The same stresses men face, women face, too, with the added personal and societal expectations they face as mothers and daughters, responsible as the primary caregiver for their families.
The Liberal government has claimed to be working with women. They claim that a gender-based analysis informed the last budget, and we have more women ministers than ever before. Yet, the implications of this policy for women small-business owners have not been clearly thought out.
Instead of pushing rhetoric that divides Canadians, perhaps their focus could be put on programs that bring us together – like a national child-care program or a national seniors strategy or a national housing strategy. These programs would help all women, including small-business owners, to be active economic agents and be mothers, too.