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Powerful Insights 

Articles, interviews, inspiration, and tools to help you balance your power with purpose

How to level up as a woman entrepreneur

resources small business strategy Feb 17, 2022
Joanne is smiling and holding a white sign with black text that reads

The internet is full of wonderful (and not so wonderful) things. As an example, I just looked at my YouTube history for the past few months. In addition to watching a ton of meditation videos, I've learned how to swap out an electrical outlet, troubleshoot my new microphone, replace the gasket in my bathtub, and set up Quickbooks by just entering a few key words. But when it comes to learning how to negotiate as a female entrepreneur or how to negotiate as a woman in business, the internet really disappoints. And it's not because women can't negotiate. It's because very few people are paying attention to the skills women need to develop to be successful in negotiation.

In my Fearless Negotiation courses, I always start by helping students understand that it's not you that's broken. It's society. The institutions of post-secondary education and government generally do not understand, respect, or foster the potential economic impact of women's entrepreneurship and wealth generation. In other words, systems that were created by old white dudes to effectively serve old white dudes continue to reinforce the prominence of old white dudes as wealth leaders in our society.

Still with me? Let me give you an example of how this specifically affects women entrepreneurs.

Solopreneurs aren't considered entrepreneurs

"The definition of women entrepreneurs has a profound impact on who is included and who is excluded from programs intended to support entrepreneurs. For example, women are 15.6% of majority-owned SMEs with employees (114,000 entrepreneurs in 2017) but 38.3% of self-employed Canadians (1,097,000 women in 2019)."

Cukier, W., Mo, G. Y., Chavoushi, Z. H., Blanchette, S., Noshiravani, R. (2021). The State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada 2021. Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.

The Canadian definition of "entrepreneur" is a business-owner who has at least one employee (ie. the owner plus at least one other person). That means solopreneurs don't count. Sorry if that's you. It's me too.

But it's no big deal, right? Who cares? It's just a definition.


The definition is everything. It's the foundation for how programs and services are developed and funded within the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Right now, Canada bases its supports on the "knowledge" that roughly 84.6% of entrepreneurs are men (yes, I agree, the cisgendered assumptions are blinding, but that's a conversation for another day). And so "the system" develops its start up and business development support primarily around the needs of the majority - men. And if you haven't already noticed, they are designed for quick development and scaling. It's a very hustle-focused approach that most women can't adopt because of everything else we need to oversee in our lives.

There is a major shortage of support and funding for women-owned businesses

Scroll back up and take a second look at the numbers in that excerpt. Do you notice something?

If you can do the math in your head, congratulations. If math isn't your favorite thing, let me do it for you. If we use those numbers to calculate the size of the small business community, we see that the total number of entrepreneurs is about 731,000. But the total number of solopreneurs is about 2.9 million.

Read that again.

This means that the system that exists to support entrepreneurs is designed around the needs of only 20% of Canada's small business owners - and it focuses its efforts primarily on the 84.6% of those who are men. The system largely ignores 2.9 million solopreneurs, of which 1.1 million are women.

If we added solopreneurs and entrepreneurs together, they would equal about 3.6 million small business owners. And if we used that definition, women would make up 33.7% of small business owners. There's no way the system could ignore a third of its population. If you suddenly found out that you had been underserving a third of your clients, you'd probably make some changes.

Women often need to work harder to be successful, in business and life

Ok, I'm done with the math. Sorry, not sorry; I feel like it was a necessary evil to show you how systems perpetuate gender bias in favour of men. It was also to make my point - it's not you, it's the systems.

The reality of our world is that the fight for women's rights and equality is far from over. In Canada, it might appear that our rights and opportunities are entrenched. But examples like this math show that we are a far way from being seen as equal.

When we look south of our border, we see women's reproductive rights being clawed back - a regression that threatens the autonomy and economic prosperity of women who were promised that they could have it all.

When we look internationally, it gets even more frightening. Six months ago, the Taliban rolled back into Kabul, seizing control of Afghanistan, and forcing women to give up their careers and education, and resume an oppressed life, with control exerted over their ability to even step outside of their houses by themselves.

How can women in business create more opportunities?

That's a great question. Of course, I started writing this blog because it's a great way to highlight information that might get you to register for one of my classes. Yes, I am a small business owner and my goal is have you purchase from me. That's how I am able to finance this blog, my research, and the work I do to change the narrative about women and negotiation. This isn't a hobby (and your business shouldn't be either).

But the more I wrote, the more angry I became. You know that kind of angry: when you start making hand gestures at your computer while you're re-reading what you just wrote. Yep, that's me right now. Fuming.

The contribution that women make to society and to our economy is not just underestimated; it's largely ignored. And so I've decided that I will do everything in my power to help women grow in their influence and wealth. Because, like it or not, our world is shaped by those two factors. And until we gain enough influence and wealth to shift the priorities of institutions and governments, we will always be at the will of systems designed by old white dudes for old white dudes.

Supporting other women in business is the key to success

I'm going to continue developing courses to help women and non-binary folks to develop the skills they need to be successful at work and as entrepreneurs. I'm currently working on two other negotiation courses - one focused on salary negotiations, and the other on in-role negotiations. You'll see those roll out over the next few months.

After that, I'll start work on courses to teach the skill that I see women need to grow. If you would like to help inform versions of my programs for marginalized entrepreneurs and employees, please reach out. I'm sensitive to the impact of intersectional barriers to leadership and negotiation, and want to work in collaboration with people with lived experience to provide advice that does not create further harm or marginalization. And yes, I am committed to compensating you for your time, either through in-kind support or financial payment.

Third, I'm committed to keeping my self-directed courses affordable. Right now, there are payment plans in place for all of my programs. But if those payment plans are out of your reach, I will create an option to make sure you can get that education now. That includes a pay it forward pledge, where I sponsor your course fee, but once you can afford it, you sponsor another deserving entrepreneur who is in a tough spot. Send me an email if this applies to you.

Finally, I am dreaming about how to expand the reach of this education into schools. If I could change one thing about my career, it would be that I wouldn't have waited until I was in my 40s to go after what I desired and deserved. I'd like to change that for the next generation of young women.

Are you ready to level up as a woman business owner?

If you're ready to kick ass in the world of business, then register for Fearless Negotiation today. If you are an employee or interested continuing to learn about negotiation, sign up below to get my weekly newsletter, which features information, education, and learning opportunities that can help you negotiate more effectively. It’s free and you can opt out at any time. In the meantime, you can read more of my blogs on negotiation.


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