The COVID-19 pandemic has affected businesses of all sizes and across all industries. However, there is one group that has been disproportionately impacted: women-owned businesses. In addition to that, female business owners are less likely to expect future growth and development compared to male business owners.
To illustrate just how much COVID-19 has affected women-owned businesses, here are the challenges that female-led companies have faced and continue to face amidst the pandemic:
1. Lack of funding
This is not a new problem for women entrepreneurs. It has already been established that aside from earning less than men in the workforce, women are also less likely to get funding for their businesses. Female entrepreneurs have reported gender bias when trying to raise capital, with investors asking more invasive questions about their personal life instead of the business itself. Unfortunately, this is a problem that has been going on since the beginning of female entrepreneurship--and it seems that we are still far from overcoming it.
The pandemic has highlighted this issue yet again as women-owned businesses fail to receive enough support from the government to keep themselves afloat. Some businesses try to increase sales by upping their advertising, such as putting ads on curtain truck sliders, for instance, while some are focusing on digital marketing. However, these measures can only work for so long, if they work at all. Women should find more ways to increase the chances of survival, such as becoming a woman-owned small business (WOSB) and looking for programs that cater specifically to female entrepreneurs.
2. Discrimination from other businesses
Not all suppliers or vendors have gender bias against women entrepreneurs, but some do, and this percentage, no matter how small, is making the pandemic even more difficult for female business owners. The women thatdoexperience this type of discrimination when dealing with suppliers or vendors should simply find new ones when it is economically feasible. Otherwise, they don't have a choice but to face the bias head-on with an unwavering resolve, at least until they can find new suppliers or vendors for their business.
3. Gendered priorities and divorce
While society has made it a long way from gender stereotypes that plagued the generations before us, gendered priorities at home is still a very real issue today. With the pandemic forcing people to isolate themselves at home, women are finding themselves stuck in their homes juggling multiple household tasks on top of running a business. Needless to say, this makes both their work and personal lives incredibly difficult to manage.
The unbalanced distribution of child care and household duties is also a major driver of increased divorces in the middle of the pandemic, among many other reasons. For women who decide to split with their partner now, the divorce can introduce a new set of problems, some of which can directly affect the likelihood of their businesses surviving the pandemic.
Divorce can be an incredibly expensive process on both sides. Women who have businesses may find it more difficult to manage their finances when dissolving their marriage, especially if their spouse is a stakeholder. Not to mention the emotional, mental, and physical stresses that a divorce can cause, all of which can ultimately affect their ability to manage the business effectively.
With that in mind, women entrepreneurs should consider alternative dispute resolution (ADR) when separating from their spouses. Unlike a divorce that occurs in court, ADR is an out-of-court settlement that is conducted by a neutral third party and consumes less time, money, and energy. This can help women entrepreneurs minimize the separation's impact on their businesses, particularly when it comes to assets and finances.
4. Unpreparedness for digital operations
Many enterprises have shifted to digital operations since the onslaught of COVID-19. While most have the means (equipment, Internet, digital tools) to do so with minimal difficulty, there are still a lot of organizations that were not prepared for the sudden change.
Women across low- to middle-income countries have found this change to be even more challenging, as the number of female Internet users in these places is significantly smaller than males. As a result, there is a barrier for women to work remotely, access digital markets, and continue their businesses on online platforms as the pandemic bars them from continuing normal operations.
Investing in digital infrastructure is the first step to solving this problem. In doing this, governments can increase the number of women Internet users and help them find more remote work opportunities, including starting (or continuing) businesses on digital platforms.
Women-owned businesses have faced many challenges even before the pandemic, and now they are facing even more; some unique and some familiar. While times are still uncertain, governments need to step up and provide more support for this demographic that has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.