COVID 19, system barriers challenging Indigenous women who own businesses: study

TORONTO — Canadian businesses owned by Indigenous women have been steadily growing, but that progress is being threatened by COVID-19 and other systemic barriers, say researchers behind a new study.

The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub revealed Thursday that the proportion of businesses owned by Indigenous women and with revenue greater than $1 million more than doubled to reach nine per cent in 2019, up from four per cent in 2015.

Most female Indigenous business owners are sole-proprietors with the percentage having employees climbing to 42 per cent in 2019, up from 23 per cent in 2010.

But it isn’t all good news. The study — based on phone interviews with more than 3,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis business owners in 2010, 2015 and 2019 — warns the pandemic has exacerbated the barriers Indigenous women in entrepreneurship encounter.

“Indigenous women entrepreneurs continue to face systemic disadvantages such as access to services, financing, information, and basic infrastructure — and we know that many of these barriers are felt more heavily amid a global pandemic,” said Wendy Cukier, a research lead at the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, in a release.

Her study found 91 per cent of Indigenous businesses experienced a negative impact stemming from COVID-19 and the lockdowns and temporary closures that have sprang up in an effort to quell the virus.

About 76 per cent of Indigenous businesses saw a decrease in revenues and 65 per cent noticed a drop in demand for products and services, the study said.

Researchers also found Indigenous women-owned businesses are more likely to have experienced a “very negative” impact from the COVID-19 pandemic and to have experienced a drop in revenue of more than 50 per cent.

Tabatha Bull, the president of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, said these statistics must be acted on.

“Finding ways to support these businesses — including continued research — will have major benefits to Indigenous women, communities, and the Canadian economy,” she said in a release.

To help mitigate such issues, she recommend ensuring financial institutions and government funding is equitable and accessible for Indigenous women, creating Indigenous- and women-focused procurement strategies and investing in infrastructure internet and partnerships, microgrants and sponsorship for Indigenous communities.

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