Sustainable Development & Revitalization (SDNR) for First Nations Community Engagement was founded at York University and the Schulich School of Business in 2015 after two years of consultation with Professors, Elders, Chiefs, and government bodies. As an Indigenous community engagement organization, SDNR understands the importance of building bridges between academia, stakeholders, Chiefs, Band Councillors, and government bodies. Through these interconnected relationships, the team creates and successfully executes major fundraising initiatives for isolated communities. In addition to partaking in Procurement Opportunities, they also conduct environmental assessments, and engage with renewable energy and economic development projects.
Q1 Do you believe that it is important to have more women involved in the IP system?
Yes, I think it is extremely important for woman to be involved with the IP world. As of 2015, we know that there were approximately 24 female CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies such as Pepsi, IBM, General Motors, Avon, and Hewlett Packards, to name a few. By 2017, this number rose and quite significantly, if I might add. However, we still have a long way to go. By this, I mean, women are still underrepresented in almost every sector of the job force and this includes IP work as well. In the United States in 2016 for instance, woman with full time jobs were paid 20% less than their male counterparts. Although the pay gap has narrowed since the 1970s, wage disparities are still a cumbersome issue for women.
Q2 Have you noticed a gender gap in your industry? Is the situation changing?
Well my industry is multidimensional; in addition to the pursuit of my entrepreneurial endeavours with SDNR, mentoring Indigenous youths, getting my writing published, launching a clothing line, and Co-producing the Toronto Indigenous Fashion Week, I am also extremely passionate about education. So, even though I have already earned several degrees, my overall goal is to finish my Ph.D, which I am currently pursuing.
In terms of the gender gap in academia, I would have to say there is definitely a gender gap between male professors who receive far more compensation in comparison to their female colleagues. I am proud to say, however, that York University has recently shattered the glass ceiling with the recent announcement of our new President, Rhonda L. Lenton. In this regard, I would say the situation is changing, but I would also add that we still have more work to do if we want to close the gap completely.
From an entrepreneurial perspective, females have a harder time climbing the ladder as compared to men. For example, a recent U.S Senate Report, showed that only 4.4% of small business loans went to women-owned businesses. According to Bloomberg, woman in the U.S comprise of only 7% of founders who received approximately $20 million dollars or more in overall funding. The backlash to this argument suggested that if women were pitching high-quality business ideas, they would be rewarded accordingly. However, another study conducted at Harvard Business School found that the same video pitch for a start-up was twice as likely to get funded by investors when narrated by a male voice than by a female one. Regrettably, these same gender gaps also exist in Canada as well. Though I would like to add that a recent study conducted by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business found that the tide is slowly turning for Indigenous entrepreneurs. So, I am extremely hopeful and I look forward to nurturing and fostering this positive new growth in any way I can.
Q3 Do you think it is more difficult for female innovators and entrepreneurs to secure funding (and, therefore, be able to afford IP costs)?
I think the pursuit of entrepreneurship is a difficult road to navigae and only the strong survive. Research shows that more than 50% of new businesses fold within three years after launching. More often than not, it is because many new entrepreneurs are unable to secure funding or afford the costs of protecting their ideas. If I could go back and start my entrepreneurship mission over again, the one thing I would like to share with other female entrepreneurs is: "Please protect your ideas and share on a need to know basis only."
I was fortunate to have a rich network of colleagues, peers, and other professionals within York University that I consider family. I, therefore, had a large professional network of people to turn to when I encountered difficulties with my new business, particularly where IP costs were concerned. Unfortunately, not all female entrepreneurs have this kind of support, particularly Indigenous women. For this reason, our team is in the process of creating and adding a specialized mentoring sector to our organization. Once we have this launched and underway, we plan to expand these services to those living in isolated Indigenous reserves where the costs associated with IP and other entrepreneurial endeavours are harder to access.
Even though the government of Canada has recently decided to pour more money into entrepreneurship endeavours, there are still many obstacles to overcome in terms of securing funding, and this is especially true for female innovators from every racial background.
Q4 Are there unique challenges that female inventors and entrepreneurs face?
Indeed there are many challenges that female inventors and entrepreneurs face. Despite the fact that entrepreneurship has shifted and become more inclusive of the female voice; according to a recent study conducted by the National Association of Women Business Owners, females face unique challenges in terms of cultivating success and getting their businesses to the next level. The seven steps include, but are not necessarily limited to:
1) Defying Social Expectations,
2)Limited Access to Funding,
3)Having to navigate a male lead industry,
4) Owning Their Accomplishments,
5)Building a Support Network,
6) Balancing Business and Family Life; and
7) Coping with Fear of Failure.
Q5 How can the innovation and IP ecosystems become more inclusive for under-represented groups, such as female entrepreneurs?
Women are rising and overcoming obstacles they once faced in the employment sector, and this includes the world of IP and entrepreneurship. According to Jayne Durden of the CPA Global IP Platform, women are also producing ground breaking inventions and taking leadership of multimillion dollar technology companies to heightened levels. For example, a recent WIPO study found that 29% of the international patent applications filed in 2015 included at least one female inventor, compared with just 17% in 1995. This is exciting news because it means that women are filing more patents and building more innovative ideas than ever before. And they are going the extra mile to protect their activity.
I feel like the world of innovation and IP ecosystems can do more to be more inclusive of under-represented groups. For one, I think government bodies, stakeholders, and academia have a role to play in this regard. And by addressing the above-noted seven steps, as per the National Association of Women Business Owners, I think a lot more can be accomplished. York University has recently taken the lead in this regard and I am extremely proud of the launching of the new LaunchYU platform and the YEDI program which I myself am a proud graduate of. With rich networks like these based inside great academic institutions like York University, the sky is the limit, even for female and underrepresented entrepreneurs.
Q6 What types of assistance will benefit female entrepreneurs?
As noted in the survey conducted by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, I think there are a variety of challenges that entrepreneurs face, and this also includes Indigenous lead innovators. Ingrid Vanderveldt, founder of Empowering a Billion Women by 2020 and Dell’s former entrepreneur-in-residence, has found that the number one reason female entrepreneurs fail is their lack of confidence and not having access to mentors. I would have to disagree with her on this one, only because I myself struggled with getting my business off the ground and it had nothing to do with my lacking of confidence or accessing mentors. The difficulties I encountered were two-fold, first I had grave difficulty accessing funding. And the second was gaining the trust of Indigenous peoples who live in remote areas, as well as overcoming difficulties associated with covetousness. One would think that Indigenous women can turn to their own for support, but the fact of the matter is, that simply is not true.
Overall, I think female entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed if they have access to a professional network of well-educated people who have their best interest at heart. In addition, I also feel that women are more likely to succeed with their business ventures if they are provided with more access to financial support systems. Even if their business is a not-for-profit.