As the world marks International Women’s Day, there are renewed calls for greater supports for women in business.
In Vancouver, female entrepreneurs gathered at the Cycle Collective Wednesday for a fundraiser for The Women’s Network mentorship programs, where many said they now rely on one another for support to overcome challenges many of their male peers don’t face.
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“It’s the communities that sort of keep my purpose and passion going and within the space and say the women entrepreneurs that I’ve met that are athletes, on careers that are mothers, we are one huge community and we support each other,” Cycle Collective owner Amanda Lau told Global News.
About 39 per cent of self-employed people in B.C. are women, the second highest in Canada behind Nova Scotia, according to the province’s 2022 small business profile report.
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That figure has held steady for the last five years, something young advocates like Laurel Brooksbank with the Women’s Network at UBC hope to help change.
The Women’s Network is a U.S.-based organization that has recently expanded to Canada, including a UBC chapter. Brooksbank said the group aims to help young entrepreneurial women build connections and confidence as they prepare to enter the professional world.
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“It’s pretty much a chapter about empowering women to get involved in professional spaces and really just encourage each other to go out be their best either in the professional world or the social world and empowering each other,” she said.
“We want to make sure they’re empowered to feel like they have just as much right to be there as anyone and their opinion is just as valid and their ideas are just as good and to take up space, like they don’t need to feel quiet and small.”
The province’s small business profile report also found that female entrepreneurs often chose to work for themselves because of the flexible work-life balance.
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But that, too, can come with its own set of challenges.
Angie Buonassisi, a serial entrepreneur who has started three businesses in the last decade, including her recent skin-care start up Lontreau, said she relied heavily on the support of other women when she first got started.
“What was really difficult in the beginning was managing family and business — when I launched my first business I had a newborn baby, lost my receptionist and brought my baby to work. Those are the type of things you do as an entrepreneur,” she said.
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“I would say because I am a single mother, (it’s) challenging being at work and also raising two children and just managing my time,” added Lau.
Buonassisi said all of her companies are now female-led, with women in the key leadership positions.
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But she said the business world has work to do when it comes to making room for women to succeed.
“What I’d like to see other companies do is make that same commitment, and at the same time, making those small modifications that make it so that women like us can have families and careers, and that might mean a little bit more time off or a little bit more leniency if something is needed on the childcare front,” she said.
“If we can make that space for women it pays off, because women are really good at business.”
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Both women said they’d seen the business world change in positive ways for women in recent years, and while there’s more work to do, it’s worth it.
“It’s really important that we acknowledge that women, whatever their legacy is, or whatever purpose and passion they want, if it’s being a mother, if it’s being a business owner, they can do it all,” Lau said.
“I have a daughter — she’s seven — and I want her to know that whatever she puts her mind to, she can do.”
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