Scale the Gap: Exploring gender ownership and growth experiences for Canadian firms

This report analyzes how gender ownership of a firm impacts its likelihood of becoming a scale-up. These insights are designed to inform policy to support women entrepreneurs.
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Viet Vu
Senior Economist
Steve Denney
Research Collaborator + Ph.D, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy

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About This Report

Many have studied how gender ownership and gender-based experiences affect start-ups or business more generally, but comparatively few examine the role gender plays in the process by which firms grow at a high-growth rate and achieve scale-up status. As part of the broader Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, an Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) initiative to close the gender gap in entrepreneurship, Scale the Gap focuses on filling a critical knowledge gap. A quantitative methods paper, this research complements the qualitative work recently published, Growing their own way: High-growth women entrepreneurs in Canada.

Using a representative survey on growth experiences for small and medium firms, we examine the unique challenges women-owned firms face while growing toward scale-up status. We find that, while the gender ownership structure of firms doesn’t inherently impact the likelihood that a firm will scale, scale-ups owned by women tend to be smaller than those with higher men-ownership shares. We also find that when women-owned firms encounter growth challenges — such as regulatory issues and talent-related challenges — differently than men-owned companies, and are less likely to overcome these challenges.

This research will help policymakers navigate the complex gender dynamics that exist in growth entrepreneurship, and help identify points where policy interventions can create a significant impact in closing the growth gaps for women entrepreneurs in Canada.

Read this report to help you:
  1. Understand how to identify scale-ups, and why they are important.
  2. Explore women entrepreneurship experiences related to firm growth and reaching scale-up status.
  3. Identify unique challenges firms with women ownership encounter while growing their firms.
  4. Identify policy intervention opportunities or programs to support the growth of firms with women ownership, and where additional research (including program evaluation) is required.

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Key findings from the report:

  1. Gender ownership structure of the firm does not act as a reliable predictor of whether a firm reaches scale-up status. Firms with more women owners are just as likely to scale-up as firms with more men owners, but there are indirect growth challenges, such as navigating regulations or recruiting and retaining qualified employees, that affect women entrepreneurs differently than men, making it harder for some firms with women ownership to grow.
  2. Scale-ups with men ownership tend to be larger than scale-ups with women ownership, both in employment and revenue, with 9% higher employment and 20% higher revenue.
  3. Among businesses who face specific growth challenges, firms with more men owners are more likely to overcome these challenges and reach scale-up status. Examples of growth challenges where we see gender differences include: navigating regulatory challenges, talent identification, recruitment and retention, and issues related to consumer demand.
  4. We also identify inequalities related to export market access, as well as innovation opportunities for firms with different gender ownership structures.

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Viet Vu
Senior Economist
Steve Denney
Research Collaborator + Ph.D, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy

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Mar 18, 2021

What role does gender play in the process by which firms grow and achieve scale-up status? We set out to understand how growth experiences differ for men and women entrepreneurs.
The scale-up challenge for women entrepreneurs
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