Self-employed women in Canada on the rise, but other divides remain: StatCan – National |

Women now account for more than one-third of self-employed Canadians, a new study by Statistics Canada has found, but the number who were their “own boss” remains lower than men in terms of the total number of those employed in this country.

The study conducted by StatCan based on the recent Labour Force Survey and population censuses found women represented 37 per cent of all Canadians who worked independently to operate a business, professional activities or were unpaid family workers — a rise from 26 per cent almsot five decades earlier in 1976.

However, even with the increase in terms of the self-employed, among working Canadians just 11 per cent of women considered themselves their “own boss” — up from nine per cent in 1976 — compared to men at 16 per cent, which was an increase from 14 per cent almost five decades ago.

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Ashley Rowe, a 24-year-old entrepreneur who started her digital marketing collective New Leaf in 2022, said she’s not surprised women are jumping into the business of being their own boss, but added it can be a case of having to take risks.

“I feel like sometimes as a woman in business, you’re always kind of taught or that back end is like keep things small, you know do the safe path,” she said. “I think it’s so important when you’re at that crossroads and, of course where it makes sense, to find courage to really take that job and try entrepreneurship or whatever that looks for them.”

She said among the benefits that have come with being self-employed include every day being different in terms of what to expect and the flexibility.

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Self-employment declining in Canada

It’s not without difficulty at times, Rowe said, but it’s mostly due to needing to motivate yourself each day because it’s not the standard nine-to-five job. In addition, even in 2023, she said there can still be times women entrepreneurs have to break down the gender divide and the expectations that go along with it — even those imposed by women themselves.

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“I found very early into my entrepreneurship journey was even if I didn’t need to, I was finding little ways to minimize my accomplishments because when I’m in a networking setting and I’m in a room of men and women, I found to the men I didn’t want to seem too powerful or  too aggressive and to the women I didn’t want to be stepping on anybody’s toes,” she said.

Rowe added instead of diminishing those accomplishments, there should be celebration of them instead.

Though the numbers encompass the various fields for which self-employed Canadians work in, the data did show five occupations that are the most common for women to work in — three of which haven’t changed since the late 1980s.

Retail and wholesale trade managers, early childhood educators (ECEs) and assistants, and hairstylists and barbers each saw a drop in how many women were employed, with ECEs seeing a decrease from 11 per cent in 1987 to just 4.6 per cent, but were still considered in the top five.

However, real-estate agents and salespersons, and light-duty cleaners were added to that top list with 4.5 per cent and 4.4 per cent of self-employed women respectively working in these fields.

For men, the data found various changes from the top five though home building and renovation managers, retail and wholesale trade managers and agriculture managers were in the top five. However, the latter saw a drastic drop from 18.1 per cent down to just 5.2 per cent in 2022.

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Statistics Canada in its study wrote of a “notable shift” in one sector of self-employment among women, that of a move away from unpaid family workers which see individuals working without pay on a farm or business owned or operated by a family member.

In 1976, this group accounted for 34 per cent of self-employed women, but has reached a historical low of just one per cent. By comparison, just three per cent of self-employed men were unpaid family workers in 1976.

When it comes to demographics, the number of self-employed women is also changing when it comes to age, with those 15 to 24 comprising just two per cent compared to five per cent in 1976, while those 55 years and older rose four per cent from 14 to 18 in the same period.

The data also showed little difference between the self-employment rates of racialized and non-racialized, non-Indigenous women, at 10 and 12 per cent, respectively, but it did find some discrepancies when it comes to different racialized groups. Korean women were found to have the highest rate with one in five being self-employed, while Filipino and Black women had lower rates at five and six per cent respectively.

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Senior researcher Sharanjit Uppal told Global News part of the reason for this study was because the agency found while there was a good deal of research on women in the labour market, there was not the same in terms of trends of women in self-employment.

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And while the study showed there has not been a great deal of change for occupations of women are self-employed, he said part of the reason why self-employment overall has increased is also the range of jobs available compared to 1976.

“The type of occupations we have in today’s world are more immediate,” he said. “They are more conducive to self-employment.”

If women are considering whether they want to take that step, Rowe suggests some could start it as a “side hustle” as she did, as it helped her plan out her business and begin taking on clients.  One of the most important things that can be done, though, is to have confidence in what you’re doing.

“After you get to that crossroads, not only taking that job, but every single day, reminding yourself, like, ‘I deserve to be at this table just as much as this person does,’ or ‘I deserve this company just as much as this person does.’”

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