My worlds collided this week when I went to the House of Commons to speak about women’s economic security.
First, the theme for our conference is Speak Up. Stand Out. Soar. So there I was on April 6, speaking out on behalf of women.
But second was my initial response when the invitation arrived. Here I am having just co-authored Good Enough, a book on why women don’t feel good enough, and I start to question why they have chosen me??
Initially I wasn’t going to do it, but I quickly realized this opportunity wasn’t about me and my nervousness, but about the women in Canada who deserve better. So I went to Ottawa.
What did I learn? First big lesson – seven minutes goes very quickly. That was how long I had to present, and so I didn’t get to cover all I wanted to say. Fortunately I can send in a further written submission, which I have already done.
Second, I got asked all sorts of questions about women on boards, women in skilled trades, seniors, compassionate leave – all of which made me glad that I take an interest in women's issues.
So what did I talk about? First had to be affordable child care as without it, too many women can’t work and their skills and talents are lost to the marketplace. With the tragic case in Vaughan in the news this week, I also highlighted that this is what can happen when parents desperately need child care and they chose what they can afford. This is the case where a child died and it was found that the caregiver had 35 children and 12 dogs in her care.
Having worked with abuse survivors and teen moms, I also talked about the needs of marginalized women and then addressed the needs of women entrepreneurs.
Several years ago I served on the National Task Force for Business Growth for Women through which we checked the pulse of women entrepreneurs across Canada. We wanted to find out why women’s businesses grew more slowly in comparison to their male counterparts.
What did we learn? First the results were the same across the country – that women lack financial literacy; they don’t use technology to grow their businesses and they lacked confidence. The latter being a big one, and it dovetails with what we learned doing our book. I shared these results with the Standing Committee.
I also spoke about the need to support women over 40 in their entrepreneurial endeavours. If you are under 39, there are all sorts of resources you can access, but one year later, you are out of luck. My recommendation was that they expand the mandate and funding of Futurpreneur, a successful program that provides loans and mentoring to the start-up business owner.
Another glaring gap that I addressed was the lack of a federally funded women’s enterprise centre in Ontario. Every other province has the benefit of such a resource, except Ontario. Time for this to change. My suggestion was to bring the Ontario based women’s business organizations and networks together to share best practices and work out how such an enterprise centre could operate and be funded.
Creating a level playing field for women is not a gender issue, it is an economic one. When women succeed, everyone benefits – families, communities and business.