Women’s Entrepreneurship and Family Well-being

Gaby Novoa explores the connection between women’s entrepreneurship and family well-being.

October 21, 2021

Gaby Novoa

The growing number of women starting and/or running businesses is increasingly being recognized not only as an economic phenomenon but as a movement that impacts and is impacted by family, social, cultural and political contexts.1 Women entrepreneurs have commonly cited work–life family balance, flexibility and a desire to meet community needs, including gaps in the availability of products and services that cater to diverse communities, as motivating factors behind their decision to start a business.2, 3

Research has shown that women’s disproportionately higher participation in caregiving, child care and unpaid household work contributes to unequal participation in the paid workforce.4 Moreover, women with (often intersecting) marginalized and racialized identities also face structural and societal barriers to access and involvement within the workforce, including entrepreneurship.

Starting a business can provide women with increased flexibility to structure their work–life patterns to better meet their needs and family responsibilities. For women from marginalized communities, entrepreneurship can provide opportunities for overcoming other systemic barriers, such as racism and sexism in the workplace.

Support and funding for women entrepreneurs can play an important role in mitigating barriers to employment, strengthening their economic independence and capacity to manage work and family responsibilities through greater flexibility.

Entrepreneurship can enhance quality time with family

Finding balance between work and life/family has been reported by many women entrepreneurs as a common motivation.5 From Rise Up: A Study of 700 Black Women Entrepreneurs, one woman shared:

“I was particularly drawn to entrepreneurship due to becoming a mother, not having the ability to determine how much quality time is spent with my children and family – I felt the need to create financial freedom for myself and my future generations.”6

As outlined by Sue L. T. McGregor in her model of family well-being, flexibility is considered by researchers as one of the pillars of family well-being: it’s a key characteristic of strong relationships and connectedness within a family.7 Since entrepreneurship allows women to determine their own work schedules, it allows the space to increase one’s availability to family commitments.

Another interview participant centred the love for her children, and desire to increase quality time with them, as an incentive toward entrepreneurship:

“My inspiration is definitely my children, I have traded so much time in the past for money to make ends meet for them, and I had gotten to a point where it was no longer possible, especially with the pandemic. I am thankful to be able to stay at home and watch them grow and also work close [to] them and build my empire, not for myself, but for them and their future generations.”8

Flexible work–life arrangements support caregivers’ unique needs and responsibilities

Women continue to report that they perform most parental tasks,9 and research shows that this unequal division of household work impacts women’s labour force participation.10 Mothers in Canada are more likely than fathers to report that they have had to put their careers on the back burner to manage home and parenting responsibilities (32% vs. 21%).11 Entrepreneurship offers a potential way for women to balance the work, care and household roles that they bear.

This flexibility also extends to and supports women’s ability to make time for caregiving duties. With 73% of surveyed women entrepreneurs reporting the desire for increased work flexibility, it is evident that entrepreneurship offers this valued characteristic.

Caring for family members, especially aging parents, continues to be predominantly led by women,12 accounting for 54% of Canadians surveyed in 2018 who provided care in the past year.13 A 2019 survey from Angus Reid found that women were more likely than men to report that they currently spent time with, were helping or were providing care for someone with age-related mobility or cognitive issues (27% vs. 24%). In the same survey, women caregivers were twice as likely as men to say their caregiving has had a major impact on their life and day-to-day activities (12% vs. 6%).14

Economic independence strengthens the family unit

One woman shared that she was informed by her grandmother’s own entrepreneurship, which taught her that this was a meaningful option available to her:

“My inspiration came from my [grandmother]; she was a tailor. She was an entrepreneur that had a home-based successful business. She worked at her own time, [at her own] pace, with a flexible schedule. Her being able to create her own work schedule, have time for family and make an income [inspired] me to seek within and find what I can do to be able to create something similar for myself.”15

The autonomy of the family unit is another principle that McGregor attributes to family well-being, which refers to the independence and the ability to determine a family’s own boundaries. This independence connects and overlaps with the component of financial security wherein economic stability and the ability to provide for one’s family is considered a part of the complex nature of overall well-being. A family’s sense of security and protection from economic risks can support their unit’s well-being. The agency of having control over one’s own employment can support how a family manages uncertainty and meets their needs.16

The links between family well-being and community

Research shows that a sense of community connection, belonging and engagement further contributes to family well-being. This tie to community fulfills the social needs of a family and amplifies well-being by strengthening feelings of care, trust, safety and reciprocity.17 Moreover, research has shown that women entrepreneurs are more likely than men to have social- and community-oriented initiatives and projects, and thus not only benefit from community connection but become active contributors to shaping their community’s well-being.18 Black women in the Rise Up study reported that the economic independence and opportunity allowed through entrepreneurship strengthens and empowers their positions as providers both in their families and their communities.19

Some also reported that entrepreneurship is, in part, a response to unmet needs, products and services within their communities. One shared her experience of having recently immigrated to Canada and not being able to find any salon that knew how to accommodate her hair type. She soon realized that most Black women and girls in her community also struggled to find salons that offered this knowledge and care. Identifying this need led her to start her salon business as a response.

Community also plays an important role for Indigenous women entrepreneurs, who report that their work responds to gaps in the market or resources. They also seek to uplift their community through their work. Indigenous women’s businesses often implement “community-oriented strategies and have a focus on community relationships,” by creating jobs, sharing skills and providing leadership. In fact, Indigenous women-owned businesses rank community relationships as most important to their business success (83%), whereas Indigenous men-owned businesses rank their suppliers as most important (80%).

Moreover, Indigenous women entrepreneurs serve an important role in strengthening their communities’ culture by the integration of traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. Recognizing and responding to the unique needs of Indigenous entrepreneurs would therefore support greater well-being of family and their local communities because of the frequent nature of their work’s involvement and interconnectedness with community.20

Women entrepreneurs continue to experience discrimination

Though entrepreneurship offers many benefits, it not necessarily a first choice nor free of challenges. Among the reasons that draw many women to entrepreneurship is the lack of access and support needed through standard employment arrangements, such as subsidized child care and paid leave.21 For many women of colour, this lack of equity is compounded by racism and systemic barriers that impact their participation in the labour force.

Discrimination continues within the entrepreneurial landscape – women entrepreneurs have often been found to receive less funding than men, with the funding gap even larger for women of colour. Research shows that racial bias and discrimination impacts how investors and financial institutions evaluate and allocate funds.22 Women are also far more likely to own and operate small businesses, with few or no employees, which is an additional factor that makes it difficult to access funding.23 In a research report for the Brookfield Institute, one woman entrepreneur shared:

“I was pitching to a guy who was well regarded in the angel circuit. I was a sole founder, and he said to me, ‘You know, you’re 29 years old and you’re engaged. I think you’re gonna get married and pop out a couple kids, and I’m not interested in investing in a mompreneur.’”24

Studies with Black and Indigenous women entrepreneurs continuously show that those from marginalized communities face systemic inequalities and barriers.25, 26 Research shows that lack of information and access to funding is a key barrier to the success of women entrepreneurs. More than 80% of surveyed Black women entrepreneurs have used their personal finances to fund their businesses, despite the existence of funding opportunities.

Less than one-quarter (22%) of Black entrepreneurs were aware of the Business Development Bank of Canada or Export Development Canada, organizations that offer the largest federally funded programs for business support in the country.27 Moreover, Canada’s “digital divide”28 creates a distinct disadvantage for Indigenous women entrepreneurs: 24% of households in Indigenous communities have access to high-speed Internet, compared with 84% of all households in the country. Indigenous entrepreneurs in many remote or northern areas therefore cannot rely on affordable or stable Internet, an essential component in remote work.

Moving forward – supporting women entrepreneurs

Championing the autonomy of women entrepreneurs, through increased access to funding and support, in turn strengthens the support that they further extend to their families and communities. Increased awareness and accessible information about the funding and resources that are available to women entrepreneurs is also shown to be a critical area of improvement. Thus, targeted supports that are informed by evidence-based research are necessary to supporting the work of women entrepreneurs, particularly those who face racialized and marginalized barriers. Resources such as Growth Untapped: Designing Funding with an Equity Lens,29 a toolkit developed by the Brookfield Institute, outlines specific recommendations for the funding ecosystem to address bias toward women of colour entrepreneurs. When programs and policy-makers facilitate support for women entrepreneurs, they additionally support the contexts in which family and community well-being can flourish.

Gaby Novoa is responsible for communications and publications at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

This article was reviewed by Kim de Laat, PhD.


  1. Silvia Gherardi, “Authoring the Female Entrepreneur while Talking the Discourse of Work–Family Life Balance,” International Small Business Journal, 33(6) (2015) . Link: https://bit.ly/3oaq3Y7.
  2. Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, Black Business and Professional Association, Casa Foundation, and de Sedulous Women Leaders, Rise Up: A Study of 700 Black Women Entrepreneurs (April 2021). Link: https://bit.ly/37AO7K7.
  3. Kaira Jakobsh and Sonia Boskov, “Breaking Barriers: A Decade of Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada,” Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (December 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2VP9AMU.
  4. Melissa Moyser, “Women and Paid Work,” Statistics Canada (March 9, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/3APGe0l.
  5. Dianne Deborah Murphy, “A Model of Women Entrepreneurs’ Well-being,” University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, UWM Digital Commons: Theses and Dissertations (May 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/3uuetZ7.
  6. Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.
  7. Sue L. T. McGregor, “Conceptualizing Family Well-being,” McGregor Monograph Series 202001 (May 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3C22zsj.
  8. Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.
  9. Diana Gerasimov, “In Brief: COVID-19 IMPACTS on Distribution of Household Tasks,” The Vanier Institute of the Family (March 1, 2021). Link: https://bit.ly/3q6EF8a.
  10. Karine Leclerc, “Caring for Their Children: Impacts of COVID-19 on Parents,” Statistics Canada (December 14, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3n7tMFi.
  11. Canadian Women’s Foundation, “Join the Mother Rising” (July 20, 2021). Link: https://bit.ly/3DXPRMi.
  12. Comfort Life, “Caregiving Statistics.” Link: https://bit.ly/3kJtboU.
  13. Statistics Canada, “Care Counts: Caregivers in Canada, 2018” (January 8, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3lX5Bac.
  14. Angus Reid Institute, “Caregiving in Canada: As Population Ages, One-in-Four Canadians Over 30 Are Looking After Loved Ones” (August 12, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2XWGCfz.
  15. Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.
  16. Gaby Novoa, “Research Recap: (Re)conceptualizing Family Well-being,” The Vanier Institute of the Family (October 14, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/31a1Chg.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Diana M. Hechavarria, Amy Ingram, Rachida Justo and Siri Terjesen, “Are Women More Likely to Pursue Social and Environmental Entrepreneurship?” Global Women’s Entrepreneurship Research: Diverse Settings, Questions, and Approaches (March 2012). Link: https://bit.ly/3FGZ7pf.
  19. Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.
  20. Kaira Jakobsh and Sonia Boskov, “Breaking Barriers: A Decade of Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada.”
  21. Sarah Thébaud, “Business as Plan B: Institutional Foundations of Gender Inequality in Entrepreneurship across 24 Industrialized Countries,” Administrative Science Quarterly (2015). Link: https://bit.ly/3ATvQUN.
  22. Kim de Laat, Ashleigh Montague and Chanel Grenaway, “Growth Untapped: Designing Funding with an Equity Lens,” Brookfield Institute (April 2021). Link: https://bit.ly/2YTXh3q.
  23. Kim de Laat and Meghan Hellstern, “Growing Their Own Way: High-Growth Women Entrepreneurs in Canada,” Brookfield Institute (October 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3lI5DUA.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Kaira Jakobsh and Sonia Boskov, “Breaking Barriers: A Decade of Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada.”
  26. Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Learn more about the digital divide and digital equity for Indigenous communities on the website of the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness. Link: https://bit.ly/3CGhAAK.
  29. Kim de Laat, Ashleigh Montague and Chanel Grenaway, “Growth Untapped: Designing Funding with an Equity Lens.”
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