The YWCA is working to eliminate barriers to women’s entrepreneurship

Each day at YWCA Hamilton, women with talent, ambition, and entrepreneurial spirit access our Employment and Training Services, whether they’re hoping to launch their own digital marketing agency, open a café or hair salon, or embark on a freelance career, to name only a few examples.

By offering specialized training assistance and programs and services for women, youth, and newcomers, YWCA Hamilton helps individuals overcome barriers to employment and achieve economic equality. We recognize that economic security is an integral component of well-being, and we get excited every time we help a woman achieve her entrepreneurial dreams.

Providing support in a women-centered environment by connecting to a like-minded network of women and coaching on a one-to-one basis ensures that women can apply for grants, loans, and funding in such a way as to ensure that they are taking steps forward toward success,” says Deborah Schwientek, Manager of Employment and Training Services at YWCA Hamilton.

We know there are a number of persistent barriers to women’s entrepreneurship. According to a 2018 article in the Globe and Mail “female entrepreneurs often struggle to find growth capital. This is an issue for any start-up but is especially acute for women who face additional challenges, such as unconscious bias and a lack of female investors. As a result, women receive less than 16 per cent of all venture-capital funding.”

We also know those female entrepreneurs often lack mentors with too few women currently holding top leadership positions in Hamilton. In 2017, we released the second instalment of the EXCLerator Project, which looks at women and diversity in Executive and Community leadership. The report done in partnership with McMaster University showed that women remain underrepresented in leadership roles across virtually all employment sectors in both Halton and Hamilton.

Women account for two-thirds of all part-time employees across Canada and represent 59% of Canadians making minimum wage. Today’s STEM workforce suffers from a lack of female representation, especially minority women. Women are also often the primary caregivers, taking on unpaid care work for children and ageing parents, which can make it difficult to work in inflexible work environments.

Investing in the careers of women is crucial not only for our economy but in the lives of the many women we serve. Since 2016, 37 new businesses have launched through YWCA Hamilton’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, which was created through the generosity of the Allen and Milli Gould Family Foundation. The program assists women who want to start a small business through in-class business training including marketing, goal setting, and business plan creation and implementation. Mentorship is also a critical component of this program.

Our Microlending program is for women with limited incomes who want to start a small business. Services include assessment for loans, individual business coaching, and group learning sessions designed to help women learn how to start and operate a small business, obtain a microloan, and build a positive credit history. This program connects prospective small business owners with business experts and provides access to available community resources and support.

YWCA Hamilton also knows it’s critical to create opportunities for future leaders. This year, 20 young Syrian refugee women engaged in a March Break leadership camp focused on building self-esteem and enhancing employability and life skills. Our STEM Girls program funded by The Hamilton Community Foundation offers young women in middle school the opportunity to explore careers in science, technology, and engineering. SISTER (Success in Service Training and Employment Retention), a program funded by Service Canada, that is no cost to participants, enables young women to develop and enhance their life and employability skills and make successful transitions into the labour market.

YWCA Hamilton supports women in the field of information technology through our Women in Information Technology program. We also seek to address the gender imbalance that currently exists with young women in high schools not entering careers in Technical Fields and Skilled Trades through the Equitable Pathways to Technical Fields and Skilled Trades project that is funded by Status of Women Canada. Breaking barriers for women is not the only focus of YWCA Hamilton’s Employment and Training Services. We also welcome participants and employers to The Opportunities Program (T.O.P), a program funded by Service Canada, which assists persons with disabilities to prepare for, obtain and maintain employment.

To learn more about YWCA Hamilton’s Employment and Training programs, visit ywcahamilton.org. Or drop by to say hello or grab a bite at At the Table, our social enterprise café and catering company that provides training opportunities to women and girls.