Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lead to Win for Women

We are pleased to welcome a guest columnist today. Janice Singer from the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program writes:

Today, March 8th, marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. As women in the Western world, we have a lot to celebrate: better opportunities, better education, better health, more choices for everything, really. We also have a lot to be concerned about - there is still a tremendous amount of work necessary throughout the developing world to increase the status of women. To set the focus right up front for today, though, this column is neither about our successes at home nor the burning issues facing us internationally.

This column is about one glaring area where women must make more progress at home, right here in Canada. For the past two years, I have worked for the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) as an Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA). My role is to work with small and medium-sized innovative, growth-oriented businesses. I have a toolkit including advisory services, linkages, and funding that I can offer to clients to help them bring their products and services to market, and grow. It’s a job that I’m passionate about. I am currently actively working with about 45 clients, and I have a caseload of about 60-70 clients at any one time. Of these clients, only 3 have founders, co-founders, or CEOs that are women. That works out to about 4%. Even as a software engineering researcher in a male-dominated field, about 15-20% of my colleagues were women.

Of course, this number is based on my personal experience and may not apply overall, but in Ottawa, it does seem to hold with my colleagues. Also, this is not to say that women don’t play an important role in the male-driven businesses – we see them frequently as CFOs, heads of HR, and in high-level technical and management positions. These are important roles that drive business growth, but are significantly different than a CEO’s role.

Now here is the crux of the problem, and what I’d like to address today. I know there is a lot of research in this area, but it doesn’t seem to have increased the numbers. Why aren’t women CEOs? What is different about a woman CEO than a male CEO? And most importantly, how can we support and grow women CEOs?

To try to address these burning questions in Ottawa, we have just started a program called Lead to Win for Women, or LTW2. By building on the model of Lead to Win, our goal is to offer the infrastructure necessary to help women build and then grow their businesses. To be clear, we’re not offering our services to women entrepreneurs just because they’re women entrepreneurs. We’re looking for women who are interested in significant growth, with a roadmap that brings them beyond their regional boundaries and a revenue stream that supports a significant number of future employees. If you’d like to open a cupcake shop, that’s great, but it’s not LTW2. However, if you’re planning on world domination in cupcakes, then LTW2 would like to help you get there.

We believe that women have the same essential needs as men when it comes to starting a business. However, we will tailor the program as we go to ensure it attracts and supports women entrepreneurs. Right now, LTW2 is focusing on five key program elements:

  1. Support to validate early product concepts;

  2. Support to test prototypes or early stage products;

  3. Access to a resource pool who can code, develop user interfaces, sell and market, and develop websites;

  1. A LTW2 website that can be used as a showcase and exchange for matching needs/resource pool;

  2. Access to a board that can steward revenue growth.

LTW2 is just being organized. Our official launch date is April 30, 2011. Our goal is to make Ottawa the world’s leading centre for growth-oriented businesses launched by women. And we plan to evolve our program as necessary to meet the needs of LTW2 clients.

We encourage everyone to send us feedback and help us shape this program. In particular, we would like to hear from woman entrepreneurs in Ottawa who might benefit from the LTW2 program. Also, we’d like to hear from any women who have launched a successful business with six or more employees – please look back on your experiences and comment on the five elements that comprise our initial focus.

Together, let’s determine what can we do now so that in 20 years, we mark the 120th anniversary of International Women’s Day by celebrating two decades of increasing numbers of successful women CEOs.

To learn more about LTW2, contact: Janice.Singer@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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