Who Works in the Social Enterprise Sector?

maria Stories

Here comes your monthly snapshot from the 2018 Nova Scotia Social Enterprise Report, Mapping the Social Shift! This month, we’ve broken down the numbers for the section of the report that deals with just who, exactly, works in the social enterprise sector.

Advanced Age: The sector is largely led by older, experienced folks, a significant number of whom work into their potential retirement years.

While calling and emailing during the survey, we generally heard from people who had more senior roles in their organization–this was, in fact, what we were aiming for, because these people had the kind of knowledge and operational know-how we were looking for. Almost half of those in senior management positions were older than 56, and 13% of these folks were even older–past the usual retiring age of 65! This shows either a dedication to their work, or that they’re sticking around due to lack of staffing or succession plans. Probably both, the latter especially being an issue in the sector.

Education: Almost half of respondents hold university degrees, but many operate without formal business training, or any formal training at all.

Education plays an important role in that issue: when asked specifically about business education or management, many participants (who were otherwise educated in diverse fields) indicated that they didn’t have any formal business training, and had ended up working in, or even running a business due to a passion for social impact. Succession planning–planning for the future management of your organization–is extremely important, and as the sector workforce nears retirement (and beyond), we’re seeing that many organizations could use some help in that area.

Youth: Young folks are working in the sector, but not nearly enough to reflect Nova Scotia’s youth workforce overall.

We care about the young style too: 14% of the full-time sector workforce, as identified by respondents, is under 35. When taking into account just how many of these jobs are in rural areas, this is promising info for a provincial economy that hopes to attract and retain more youth. But that number is less than half of the provincial total for workers under 35: 33%, or a whole third of the province’s workforce.  Clearly, there is more to be done for youth inclusion in the sector, and that includes transferring institutional knowledge and leadership to younger generations.

Staffing: Community-oriented organizations generally operate with fewer full-time staff.

A majority of respondents, at 63%, indicated that they operated with fewer than five full-time staff, with 20% of those answering that they worked with no full-time paid staff. This points to a great fluidity, a variability in the kind of work, or even volunteer posts taken in the social enterprise sector. Many of those senior managers we contacted have staff teams who are often made up of part-time, seasonal, freelance and contract workers, suggesting a mobile sector workforce familiar with changeable work environments and practices.

Demographics: Social enterprise teams in Nova Scotia are female-dominated, but more work needs to be done to reflect the diversity of our province.

This is worth noting: the vast majority of survey respondents, 81%, have full-time staff teams that are majority female. We’ve already seen that often enough, full-time staff teams in social enterprises aren’t large, but this just means that there are many women in integral workplace positions within organizations around the province. What’s more: nearly a third of respondents indicated that all of their full-time staff are women.

While this kind of gender representation is definitely worth celebrating, the social enterprise sector has a long way to go in better representing ethnic diversity in the workforce. Three-quarters of respondents answered that they don’t have a single racialized full-time employee, and racialized persons make up only 3% of the total full-time sector workforce. This is considerably lower than the 8% visible minority and Aboriginal workforce identified in the last National Household Survey in Nova Scotia (2014).

At first glance, it’s clear that there is certainly work to be done to reach better diversity and inclusion in social enterprise workforces (and NS overall). But given the rural location of many of the organizations surveyed, the numbers also speak to a recognizable lack of diversity in areas outside of municipal Halifax.


There you have it! Working with what we now know, social enterprises across Nova Scotia are headed by many older, experienced folks, but are also staffed by a good sprinkling of younger people. People working in the sector have diverse educational backgrounds, and many indicated they could benefit from business expertise or training. Organizational teams take different and variable forms across the sector, but mainly operate with a small, core team of full-time staff, many of whom are white women. Knowing where we’re at goes a long way, but most of that value comes from knowing what we need to work on next.