Lists & Rankings

The best countries for women starting businesses

A new study ranked business environments around the world based on their friendliness to women entrepreneurs. Canada’s No. 2

Young entrepreneur posing in front of her coffee shop

(Eternity in an Instant/Getty)

Canada may not be the best place in the world for female entrepreneurs, but it’s close: It tied for second place in a recently released ranking of global business environments for women. Researcher Ruta Aidis, a fellow at George Mason University, gave Canada (and Australia) an overall score of 69 out of a possible 100—just two points less than the No. 1-ranked country, the United States—in the 31-country survey, commissioned by Dell.

Aidis looked at data in five key categories: general business environment, accessibility of resources, women’s rights and the prevalence of women in leadership roles, potential for high-growth female-owned businesses, and the entrepreneurship pipeline—the category Canada scored lowest in. “Because of its family-friendly policies and a favourable political environment for startups and investment in women, Canada is an emerging hot spot for female entrepreneurs,” Aidis commented when the survey results were released at the recent Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Summit in Berlin. “On the downside, women still have challenges accessing capital and there remains a skills confidence gap for women contemplating business startups. That’s a real invitation to dig deeper and find out what’s going on.”

One powerful way that Canada’s federal government could help female entrepreneurs is by introducing gender-diversity policies for public procurement contracts, Aidis said. Of all the countries surveyed, only the U.S. and South Africa had such policies for government contracts, which represent between 10 and 15% of most developed countries’ GDPs. Governments could also commit to collecting more gender-specific data in order to benchmark progress, she said, citing as an example Mexico, which tracks gendered data for all government-funded entrepreneurship programs. “Governments can play a key role,” Aidis said. “Many countries talk about this, but where are the policies?”

The survey provides a fascinating snapshot of global conditions and shows that strengths and weaknesses vary significantly by country. Nigeria, for instance, ranks 30th in terms of overall business environment, because of widespread violence and corruption among other things, yet it ranked first for its entrepreneur pipeline. Despite a hostile environment for entrepreneurs, a healthy percentage of women are starting businesses anyway.

Overall, the scorecard highlighted several overarching trends: globally, women don’t get access to an equal share of resources; men still dominate in key leadership positions; and growth capital and innovation ecosystems primarily focus on businesses run by men. Gendered differences still hold women back, the scorecard suggests. In all 31 countries, women were significantly less likely then men to know an entrepreneur. In 68% of the countries, women believed they had less opportunity than men to start a business—even though they also indicated that their skills matched those of their male counterparts.

Aidis summed up the results this way: “Even in countries like Canada and the United States, when you ask people to think about an entrepreneur, they’ll probably still think of a man.”

The top countries for women entrepreneurs: