Increasing the number of female entrepreneurs could boost the Canadian economy by nearly $50 billion, according to a new report by RBC Economics.

Currently, there are a relatively low number of female entrepreneurs, with women owning just 15.6 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in 2011, up from 13.7 per cent in 2004.

"There remains a tremendous untapped opportunity for female majority-owned SMEs to have an even deeper impact in terms of contributing to economic growth," writes Laura Cooper, RBC economist and author of the report.

"There is a clear opportunity for women to not only act as a supplemental source for SME growth, but to also provide a further boost to Canada's overall economy."

According to the report, If the number of female-owned businesses was to increase by 10 per cent over the next decade, it would add $50 billion to the economy.

However, there are barriers for encouraging women hoping to become entrepreneurs.

The report notes that female-led businesses face various impediments in obtaining necessary funds, including a lack of collateral or insufficient cash flow. There has been improvement in access to cash in recent years, the report said.

"There should be an emphasis on encouraging women, and younger women in particular, to pursue the entrepreneurial opportunities that are of interest to them," the report said.

Increasing labour force participation

Entrepreneurship isn't the only way women are set to boost the Canadian economy, according to the report.

Labour force participation by women has historically been lower than that of men, with 72.3 per cent of men participating in the labour force in September, compared to 61.8 per cent of women.

In 1983, however, the participation rate among women was just 53.2 per cent, and over the past three decades that narrowing gap has been a big boost to the overall economy.

"We estimate that the increase in female labour force participation over the past three decades resulted in a $130 billion contribution to economic activity in 2012, equivalent to seven per cent of GDP," Cooper says.

If that participation gap continues to narrow or close entirely over the next 20 years, the study says it could boost Canadian GDP by four per cent in 2032.