Nancy Wilson is the Founder and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC), which launched in January 2018. CanWCC is a national, not-for-profit organization that advocates for the economic priorities of women-owned businesses. It is the first (and only) Chamber of Commerce in Canada that represents the unique and diverse voices of women-identified entrepreneurs and business owners.
What inspired you to launch the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC)?
Prior to launching the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce, I was running my own business (an accounting firm) and experienced first-hand many of the challenges faced by women business owners. I was also working primarily with women clients who would describe similar stories of obstacles and difficulties in starting and growing their businesses. I was tired of reading advice about workarounds and how to change my behaviour in order to succeed. I was also frustrated and often disappointed with what I encountered in the fragmented and crowded marketplace of support services geared to women entrepreneurs. I realized that a significant systemic change was required. When I learned that Canada did not have a Women’s Chamber of Commerce, I decided to act immediately.
Can you tell us what you’re hoping to accomplish through the CanWCC? What is your main goal?
The main goal of CanWCC is to communicate the needs of women-identified business owners and entrepreneurs to those in a position to create and change policy and, in doing so, affect significant, substantive, and positive change. Research studies and exploratory task forces are useful but, ultimately, CanWCC’s members are the experts on what women entrepreneurs need to build and grow their businesses. Policymakers need to take their cues from women entrepreneurs directly and take action accordingly.
How would you say your past experience has prepared you for your current role?
I spent over a decade in the corporate world before starting my own company so I’ve had the experience of being a woman in business and a business owner. I understand why many women choose to start a business and the challenges they face in doing so. I am also a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) so I have a solid business education and background. Finally, I have always been a feminist and a strong supporter of equal rights. All of these experiences and attributes combined prepared me for my current role as Founder & CEO of the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce.
The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce is the first-ever Chamber of Commerce in Canada that represents the needs of women entrepreneurs. Why do you believe that there was never one put in place until now?
I was really surprised to find out that Canada didn’t have a Women’s Chamber of Commerce. In Canada, there are many excellent women’s’ organizations that work very hard to provide services to women, including business owners, and to advocate for our rights. A Chamber of Commerce is an institution that may be viewed by some as part of a traditional system that is outdated and due for a change. I understand that point of view; however, I also recognize that various institutions are imbued with power and legitimacy, by virtue of their history, and because of this Chambers of Commerce have unparalleled access to policymakers. I want to leverage that power for the benefit of women-identified business owners and entrepreneurs.
What would you say is the biggest benefit that the CanWCC provides to women business owners?
In a word, the unique benefit that the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce provides its members with is access. CanWCC differs from other organizations in that it can provide access to policymakers and the ability to effectively communicate members’ needs.
However, changing policy is a long-term priority and our members want something that will help them start, build, and grow strong, sustainable businesses today, tomorrow, and next week. To that end, CanWCC offers its members a different kind of access: access to programs and services through our partner network, access to a community of like-minded peers, and access to a national business network that puts their needs first.
In your expert opinion, what is the biggest challenge that women entrepreneurs face and how can the CanWCC help them overcome these challenges?
Access to capital is the biggest challenge that women-identified entrepreneurs face. To address this challenge, CanWCC made Access to Capital one of its four priorities in its Advocacy Agenda (released in January 2019) and continues to work with our members and the larger financial and investment community to explore solutions. We will be releasing our 2019 Election platform in the coming weeks. It will include specific policy recommendations related to access to capital.
What has been the biggest accomplishment of CanWCC since it first launched over a year ago?
Earlier this year, CanWCC received a 4-year grant from the Department of Women and Gender Equality (formerly Status of Women Canada) to build organizational capacity and expand nationally. Receiving this grant will allow the organization to build its resources, ensure long-term sustainability, and serve a national membership. It is an exciting time for the organization right now.
The business industry has been seeing a significant increase in female entrepreneurs in recent years. How would you say the role of women business owners has evolved in the last 20 years?
Not enough! Canada’s movement towards gender equality in many spheres is unacceptably slow. For example, research on SME financing from the early 2000s report that majority of women-owned businesses were less likely to be approved for a loan and, if they were approved, received less money (on average) than their male counterparts. Similar research from 2011 shows the same pattern, with majority women-owned businesses receiving approximately 82 per cent of the amount of financing requested versus 95 per cent for male-owned businesses. By 2017, the ratio of authorized to requested debt financing had narrowed but the amount received by majority male-owned firms totaled $40.8 million versus $3.2 million received by majority women-owned businesses.
Let’s face it, our views and acceptance of marijuana have changed more dramatically in that last twenty years than the level of gender bias in the business arena. CanWCC intends to change that.
What does the future of CanWCC look like? Where do you see it going 10 years from now?
I am very optimistic about the future of CanWCC. There is a lot of interest in women entrepreneurs right now and we intend to capitalize on that to affect real change. A decade from now, I see CanWCC as a national thought leader on SME policy. We will have a strong, engaged membership across Canada. Our advocacy efforts will be paying off and we will see some positive changes taking place.
On a final note, what made you decide to take this career path?
I wanted to do something that I was passionate about and would challenge me every day.