Families of underrepresented founders deserve universal childcare

Guest Post By Tabitha Mirza [Originally Posted June 2020]

When my mother immigrated to Canada from Bangladesh, she had thirteen dollars. She reminds me of this as we talk about my family’s experience trying to afford childcare, “when I first came to Toronto, I sent you to daycare for a short while. Weekly, I would have to pay five to six hundred dollars. We didn’t have that many earnings, it was a bad time.” Though the details may differ, the ‘bad time’ is a shared reality – past or present – for many immigrant parents trying to establish a life in Canada. Their kids, like myself, would be aware of the financial strain and the strategies our parents would use to make our care flexible or affordable, but rarely both.

Many women with children are pushed into self-employment or add entrepreneurship on top of existing ‘essential employment’ to achieve ‘work-family balance’.4 By integrating domestic, caregiving and business activities into one space – the home – it’s assumed both paid and unpaid work can be given a flexible allocation of time and attention.5 For low-income immigrant households who aspire for security and routine, however, pursuing ‘work-family balance’ by ‘working from home’ can be a risky, costly and stressful endeavour.

Studies have confirmed the difficulty with negotiating daily schedules “based on the needs of family and those of the business at the same time and in the same space”. 5 Notably, self-employed primary caregivers spend fewer hours on paid work and more time on unpaid work, therefore, bringing in less income. Additionally, juggling the constant demands of home and business leaves little time available for leisure for restorative purposes.4 This imbalance represents some of the significant barriers womxn entrepreneurs and business owners face when growing their business, safeguarding their wellbeing, or finding work-family balance.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and social distancing protocols were implemented, it was worrisome. How would womxn founders cope with increased unpaid labour demands while maintaining their business and preserving their income? 

CanWCC members have shared stories of their individual struggles, coping strategies, and hopes for the future. We found, their experience as founders is significantly shaped by their roles as moms or primary caregivers, and for the most part, caregiving and domestic labour are seldom equally divided in the household. In our report, “Falling through the Cracks: Immediate Needs of Canada’s Underrepresented Founders, “53% of women stated they experience additional spent on child care and 12% additional time spent on elder care compared to 12% and 13% of men.” 2

‘Working from home’ – i.e. sustaining a business during a crisis – may be an impossible task since the responsibility to keep children busy or care for elderly parents constantly competes for attention. The report offers insight into this experience across intersections of identity as well. For instance, 37% and 53% of immigrant founders compared to 86% and 86% of Indigenous founders experience additional spent on care as well as domestic work, respectively. 

Now that talk of post-COVID recovery is taking place, the Government of Canada should take action to repair systemic inequalities and establish gender equity experienced by women founders across intersections of identity where it concerns childcare and unpaid work. I recommend that Canada’s leaders undertake the following:

  1. Include women entrepreneurs and business owners – particularly, immigrant, Black, Indigenous, LGTBQ+ founders and founders with disability or accessibility needs – in the design, development, implementation, management, and evaluation of all COVID-19 SME recovery policies and programs1
  2. Collaborate with provinces and territories to develop a national policy that assures universal, affordable, publicly funded, and high-quality childcare for all Canadian families, with special attention paid to infant- care, after-school care, and care for children with special needs6
  3. Ensure childcare and early childcare education workers are be paid a fair wage, commensurate with their training and responsibilities1
  4. Treat child-care expenses as legitimate business expenses for self-employed parents6
  5. Apply a gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) to the federal Employment Insurance program to improve access to parental leave for self-employed individuals and to encourage the sharing of care responsibilities between parents6
  6. Develop a national awareness campaign to establish gender equality with the goal of promoting the equitable sharing of unpaid care responsibilities between men and women as well as increasing men’s participation in childcare6
  7. Include a question in the 2021 long form census on the allocation of time for household activities, with the goal of measuring unpaid work in Canada, wherein Statistics Canada must measure the effect of unpaid work on gross domestic product, as well as measure its effect on women’s incomes and their entry/exist from the labour market6
  8. Use GBA+ to establish a comprehensive economic development framework for women entrepreneurs and business owners with respect to their entrepreneurial preferences, such as but not limited to, promoting social values and personal benefits of business ownership8
  9. Municipalities direct urban planning departments to utilize existing data analysis to properly incentivize the development of childcare businesses in “childcare deserts” to ensure appropriate availability of care1


1CanWCC (2019-2020). Advocacy Agenda.

2CanWCC, & Dream Legacy Foundation. (2020). Falling through the Cracks: Immediate Needs of Canada’s Underrepresented Founders

3Coleman, S., Henry, C., Orser, B., Foss, L., & Welter, F. (2018). Policy Support for Women Entrepreneurs’ Access to Financial Capital: Evidence from Canada, Germany, Ireland, Norway, and the United States. Journal of Small Business Management, 1–27.

4Hilbrecht, M., Shaw, S. M., Johnson, L. C., & Andrey, J. (2008). ‘I’m Home for the Kids’: Contradictory Implications for Work–Life Balance of Teleworking Mothers. Gender, Work and Organization15(5), 454–476.

5Hilbrecht, M., & Lero, D. S. (2013). Self-employment and family life: constructing work–life balance when youre ‘always on.’ Community, Work & Family17(1), 20–42.

6Lero, D., Whitehead, D., Korabik, K., & Abbondanza, M. (2004). Self-Employed Women: Policy Options That Promote Equality and Economic Opportunities. Canadian Women’s Studies.

7St-Arnaud, L., & Giguère, É. (2018). Women entrepreneurs, individual and collective work–family interface strategies and emancipation. International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship10(3), 198–223.

8Taskforce for Women’s Business Growth. Blueprint for Economic Growth Action Strategies to Support Canadian Female-owned Enterprises. Ottawa.