Indigenous Women in Business – Challenges, triumphs and perseverance

In this blog we will be discussing the ever growing sector of Indigenous women in business by exploring two studies, Indigenous Women in Business in Atlantic Canada, published in Oct. 2020 and Entrepreneurship Among First Nations Women in the Atlantic Regionpublished in April 2014.

Through the analysis of these two studies, we will compare the challenges faced by Indigenous women entrepreneurs, explore what needs to be done to encourage and assist entrepreneurs and discuss how this sector is stimulating the Atlantic economy.

According to the 2020 study, Indigenous women are starting businesses at twice the rate of Canadian women with most being sole proprietors of which are part-time, seasonal, home-based businesses.

This was similarly the case in the 2014 study that showed most participating women thought of their businesses as hobbies or part-time work in order to supplement their full-time employment.

Both studies found the most common type of businesses owned by Indigenous women are craft-related, artisan, food services and retail.

The studies also found similar challenges such as funding opportunities, family and childcare obligations, training opportunities, confidence, among others.

In regard to funding opportunities, it was found in both studies that women typically finance their own businesses because they lacked the necessary criteria for most funding applications.

Natasha Martin-Mitchell of Women in Business NB talks about social media marketing during the Indigenous Women in Business Virtual Conference hosted by APC.

One of the main criteria for funding is collateral, something pledged as security for repayment of a loan. This has become a significant barrier due to the Indian Act placing constraints on taxation, housing, land title transfers and borrowing for on-reserve Indigenous persons.

Credit ratings and savings are also criteria for applications and both studies found many of the women participants had low credit and little savings due to low incomes.

As funding is a significant challenge that was consistent through both studies, the 2020 report recommended a more innovative approach with the potential for microloans with eligibility requirements that are less aligned with banking regulation and more aligned with the financial profile of Indigenous women.

The 2014 report recommended more programs for funding and more involvement from community Economic Development Officers, to offer support, guidance and create more networking opportunities that would allow for mentorship and sharing amongst women in business.

In terms of family and childcare obligations, both studies found this to be an obstacle to business due to matriarchal roots. According to the 2020 study, 73.2% of Indigenous women between 25 to 45 years of age spent more than 60 hours a week devoted to childcare than did Indigenous men. This leaves little time to focus on business ventures.

Similarly, in the 2014 study all participants emphatically put family obligations before business.

 <small> Janean Marshall of Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey lead a Yoga & Meditation session during the Indigenous Women in Business Virtual Conference
Janean Marshall of Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey leads a Yoga & Meditation session during the Indigenous Women in Business Virtual Conference.

Women in both studies indicated they wanted more training opportunities in order to progress their businesses and expressed a lack of understanding in areas like financial literacy, which caused challenges when trying to apply for funding.

Confidence was also found to be a challenge for Indigenous women entrepreneurs due to systemic racism, mental health issues, addictions and other factors.

It should be noted that a major difference between these two studies is the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused economic hardship for all industries and continues to challenge businesses and how they operate.

Even though Indigenous women entrepreneurs face challenges in business their perseverance and hard work is shown through their success and interest in entrepreneurship for the betterment of their families and communities.

Check out, and to support Indigenous women entrepreneurs in your area.

Join the conversation around Indigenous women in business by commenting on:

What is your community doing to support Indigenous women entrepreneurs? 

Are you an Indigenous women entrepreneur? What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome those challenges?

What do you think would help support women entrepreneurs in your area? How can a regional approach to support services be beneficial?