Canada needs a national women’s business council with a mandate to help develop more female entrepreneurs running larger companies, according to a new report from a cross-border women’s business group.

The Canada-United State Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs & Business Leaders, founded last year by Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump, released its third of five reports Monday, outlining strategies to encourage more female entrepreneurs in both countries to start businesses in high-growth industry sectors.

It argues Canada needs an equivalent to the U.S. National Women’s Business Council, a non-partisan federal body that provides advice to the U.S. government on issues related to women-owned businesses.

The report said a new organization in Canada could play a role similar to the U.S. group by conducting research and co-ordinating with other business groups, while also combining elements of the U.S. Office of Women’s Business Ownership, which has a mission to empower female entrepreneurs.

Council member Dawn Farrell, chief executive officer of Calgary-based electricity power generator TransAlta Corp., said Canada should adopt an ambitious plan to boost female entrepreneurialism similar to the Own the Podium program used to boost Canada’s success at the Olympics.

She wants the private sector and government to work together to provide funding for a new women’s business organization, and set a goal to lead the world in the growth of female-led businesses within 10 years.

“When I was thinking about this report, I thought, ‘Why is the conversation about if, or when, or how, or barriers’ – sort of the whiny conversation that happens around these things?” Ms. Farrell said.

“Why isn’t the conversation in Canada about, hey, we’re going to own the podium on women in business and women entrepreneurs, and let’s just get on it and go for it …. And why wouldn’t we, as a group of leaders – men and women – right now say that by 2025 we’ve got this, we’ve grown the most businesses owned by women, we’ve got the most scaled-up businesses by women, and let’s just get on it.”

Among its roles, the new group would collaborate with existing Canadian organizations working to help women in business, while also working with U.S. organizations to expand cross-border ties for female entrepreneurs, the report said.

The Liberal government’s recent budget provided $1.4-billion in new financing over the next three years to help female entrepreneurs, and pledged $250-million for Export Development Canada to help women gain access to global markets.

The report said a key priority should be the launch of a new promotional campaign, called You Are Ready, which could be run by the proposed new Canadian council and the U.S. National Women’s Business Council.

The campaign would highlight female role models who have succeeded in launching growing companies, host “boot camps” to introduce aspiring entrepreneurs to established businesswomen, and provide information on available programs and financing for female entrepreneurs.

The council’s report said many women are keen to start small companies, but most of the firms remain sole proprietorships focused on the services sector.

In Canada, for example, women own 17 per cent of companies with one to four employees, and just 7 per cent of those with more than 100 employees. The report urges more support and financing to help women-owned companies develop national and international ambitions.

The report said only 37 per cent of small and mid-sized companies owned by women are considered “high-growth,” compared with 63 per cent of companies owned by men.

Some of the limitations to women launching more high-growth companies include lack of access to financing, fewer women studying science and technology subjects, a dearth of mentoring and networking opportunities for female entrepreneurs and a lack of contacts with large buyers, the report said.

The result is that women are more likely to focus on slower-growth sectors such as retailing, health care, child care, personal services such as hair salons, and professional services such as law and public relations.

Ms. Farrell said women need more support to launch the types of companies that are “scalable,” or capable of expanding quickly to become major companies, including companies in the technology sector.

The council also calls for targeted education about entrepreneurship for women and girls through school years and in university, saying more women would have the confidence to start companies if they were exposed to an entrepreneurial culture from an earlier age.

The business council was formed last February after Mr. Trudeau visited Washington with a delegation of female executives and attended a roundtable meeting with Ivanka Trump, who is an adviser to her father, President Trump.

The group will be preparing a total of five reports on key pillars to advancing women, including a report published in January on helping female-owned businesses grow, and a second report released in early March on boosting the number of women studying and working in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics sectors.

The two remaining reports will focus on increasing women’s access to capital and advancing more women in leadership roles.

The Globe and Mail, March 26, 2018