Last week I noticed Business in BC published its Entrepreneurs of the Year Awards list. The list is filled with deserving and excellent candidates as well as inspiring stories of businesses that are thriving and innovating in a difficult business environment. The recipients are worthy of praise as many embrace values and determination that any city would want to see reflected in its business community.
That’s right, of the 8 winners and 16 runner ups, which included a total of 29 people, only a single woman made the list (Queenie Chu, and her business partners Kin Wah and Kin Hun Leung of Kin’s Farm Market, were winners of the Business to Consumer Category).
This, quite frankly, is scandalous. According to the Government of British Columbia research on small business and business in BC:
In 2008, 34.3 per cent of all business owners in British Columbia were women. This was on par with the national average of 34.4 per cent and the fourth-highest rate among the provinces. British Columbia trailed New Brunswick (38.3 per cent), Quebec (36.7 per cent), and Ontario (34.5 per cent) in terms of the share of businesses owned by women.
So 34% of all businesses in the province are owned by women, and yet the number of women cracking the Entrepreneur of the Year finalists’ list is… 1 out 29. So roughly, 3% of the finalists if you are being generous (counting by people), 1.3% if you are being accurate and counting by category.
There are a couple of theories that might explain this.
1) There are no excellent women entrepreneurs.
2) There are excellent women entrepreneurs, but they aren’t on the radar of E&Y and BCB.
3) Business culture defines excellence in terms that were created and modeled by men – and so the selection committee and nominators tend to (without malice or intent) favour men.
4) More men than women care about these types of awards, and so they go more out of their way be noticed and nominated
5) Women have less access to capital and inherit fewer businesses so will have a harder time growing businesses that would meet E&Y’s criteria
6) Answers 2-5, plus a myriad of other reasons…
This post is not an effort to take a swipe at BCB or E&Y – although I would encourage a little introspection on their part to assess why their survey (keeps) producing few, if any, women nominees. I’m not looking for parity but it would be a start if 20% of the field were women. Yes, such a number is still far too low, but it would at least come a little closer to reflecting the actual gender breakdown. I’m quite confident that the reason (1) from above is not why they are not making the list. Indeed, the E&Y committee in Ontario was able to hit this low bar for Ontario’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award. 20% (10/50) of its nominees were women.
It would be nice if these awards instigated a greater degree of introspection in the business community at large, for while no one likes to think sexism exists in Canada, we are, sadly, still not at a place of gender parity. In a recent Accenture survey, approximately two-thirds of Canadian male and female executives (67 percent of men and 64 percent of women) believed gender equality in the workplace has improved in the last 10 years. However, one-third (32 percent) of those executives surveyed believed that men and women have equal opportunities in the workplace, and one-third (34 percent) of the female executives believed that their gender limits their career opportunities. While those demonstrate things have improved from where we were a decade or more ago, they are still sobering numbers.