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Canada-US women's group created by Trudeau, Trump issues first proposals

Last Updated Jan 17, 2018 at 4:00 pm EDT

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau converses with Ivanka Trump during the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit and Gala in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. A Canada-U.S. women-in-business group created by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ivanka Trump has released its first set of recommendations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

WASHINGTON – A Canada-U.S. women-in-business group created by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump released its first set of recommendations Wednesday, proposing more affordable child care and a new binational procurement initiative.

It’s the first of five anticipated reports from the Canada-U.S. Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders, created during Trudeau’s first meeting with Trump last February.

It is delivering its findings to the two leaders. This first report is on supporting women-owned businesses, and subsequent ones due through July will look at science education, attracting entrepreneurs, and improving access to capital.

This first report makes four recommendations: affordable child care, getting startup-funding groups to measure and encourage women’s access to investment, diversity programs in private-sector supply chains and a new public-sector procurement initiative.

The procurement idea calls on Canada to create a program like one in the U.S. where five per cent of public contracts are set aside for women-owned businesses in sectors where women are under-represented.

It says the countries’ programs should be linked, with women able to qualify for the contracts in either country.

The report notes the differences between existing child-care policies in Canada and the U.S.: Canada has a national system allowing paid parental leave, unlike the U.S. But the report says access to day care remains a challenge in both countries.

”We recognize that Canada and the United States have taken different approaches to family policy and unpaid care work and do not suggest there is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution,” said the report.

”In the United States, we heard women say that the high cost of childcare or in-home support prevented them from scaling their companies to their full potential. In Canada, we heard the need for more affordable quality child care programs… (Solutions) could include things such as maternity leave policies and tax incentives. It could also include measures to level the playing field between caregivers — for example, paternity leave policies.”

The 20-page report lays out numerous gender disparities in the business world.

It points to the minuscule percentage of major companies owned by women. The percentage is even smaller in Canada than the U.S. Citing federal data from both countries, it notes that a mere 14 per cent of companies in the U.S. with 100-500 employees are female-owned, and just seven per cent in Canada. The numbers for smaller businesses are only slightly higher.

There’s a similar disparity in startup funding: 19 per cent of startups that get seed funding have a female founder, according to figures it cites from CrunchBase. The ratio drops for companies getting subsequent funding — for later-stage funding, 13 per cent or less of it goes to companies with a female founder.

The paper urges funding groups to keep these statistics, and track them, quoting one CEO: ”You cannot improve what you don’t measure.” It also encourages companies to establish more networking opportunities.

The challenge of networking is laid out in another part of the paper that cites survey stats showing there’s no clear consensus among men and women when asked whether it’s appropriate to have dinner, have lunch, drive in a car, or have a drink with a women who’s not their spouse.

”It is worth noting that business relations between men and women are receiving greater scrutiny in the wake of recent sexual harassment scandals,” says the paper.

”It is critical that women be encouraged and supported as they come forward about these instances. At the same time, some men have described heightened caution when interacting with women, especially in professional settings. A big takeaway is the need to challenge harmful social attitudes and biases, but also to be mindful of overcompensating behaviours that can further isolate women in business.”

The paper released Wednesday was part of the project led by GE Canada President Elyse Allan, and NRStor Inc. CEO Annette Verschuren.

The U.S. president’s daughter Ivanka, who participated in the launch of the project, saluted the arrival of the first report: ”Thanks … for your recommendations on growing women-owned businesses,” she tweeted.

”We value private sector input in advancing the success of women entrepreneurs in US & Canada.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said the council was created by Trudeau and Ivanka Trump and that it was expected to produce just four reports.