As of 2019, women owned more than 11.6 million US firms that employed nearly 9 million people and generated $1.7 trillion in sales. However, less than 6% of women-owned firms generated revenues of $250,000 or more in 2018, a persistent stunted profitability that the US Chamber of Commerce sources to three key problems: lack of funding, low self-confidence, and market saturation.
“Before the pandemic and through the pandemic, though, the number one barrier to the success of either a growing or a startup business continues to be access to capital,” said Hodges. Only 2% of capital goes to US-based female-only founder teams, according to PitchBook. Of that 2%, women of color get only a fraction.
These problems have not gone away during the pandemic. In fact, they have been compounded by greater pressure on businesses caused by unprecedented shifts in both demand and supply, as well as outside inhibitors like mass unemployment, evictions and women assuming much of the responsibility of childcare caused by stay-at-home orders. The result? A proven widening of the gender gap in entrepreneurship and increased hardships for female entrepreneurs.
“Women-owned small businesses have been more heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic than male-owned small businesses, and they are less likely to anticipate a strong recovery in the year ahead,” concluded the US Chamber of Commerce in a recent poll about the coronavirus.
According to the poll, 67% of men ranked the health of their businesses as “good” before the coronavirus pandemic, while 60% of women said the same. However, as of July, women’s perceptions of business health declined 13 points to 47%, while men’s dropped just 5% (women reported 15% less than men). Another indicator of the harsher toll on women-owned businesses was that male-owned small businesses reported an increase in staffing, which grew eight points since the start of the pandemic (from 17% to 25%), while female-owned small business hiring remained statistically unchanged.
Women overall have been more affected, but the ways in which they’ve been impacted vary. Several female entrepreneurs explained their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic to TRUiC, detailing the unique challenges they’ve faced and how they responded.
“It’s less volume in retail, so thinking of ways to get the product into consumer hands has to be more innovative,” said Valarie Kornblet Goldstein, who founded St. Louis-based Everyday’s Gourmet in 2014. On top of the pandemic-related challenges of catering her services to people’s changing taste buds and increasing safety protocols on every item, Goldstein is still impacted by gender-specific problems from before COVID-19.
“I’ve wanted to take some recipes into the grocery stores which are run by mostly men,” she explained. “There is a sense of brotherhood as this category is and has been male-dominated.”
Joanne Varró, a Hungary-based designer and founder of Varró Joanna Design, also says she faced a concerning drop in demand.
“The first wave of the pandemic actually had a positive impact on my business,” she said. “Then slowly anxiety started to set, and the projects slowed down. Despite the same need for creative services, the pricing is dropping down. There are a lot of self-taught designers who are offering their services at a very low price.”
Varró also finds it easier to network in person and has been trying to adapt to the digital world: “I will have to find another way to position myself as a businesswoman.”
Home life pressures have also played a role in this period of difficulty for many female entrepreneurs. As outlined in an ADP report assessing coronavirus-induced changes to the workforce, while both men and women were forced to stay home due to country-wide mandates, there was a disparity in how much time each gender was able to dedicate to work. Women spent more time dedicated to housework than men during the pandemic.
MOB Nation, a national organization dedicated to mom-owned businesses, conducted a survey of the virus’s impact on mom-led companies, finding 62% will be entirely or primarily in charge of their children’s distance learning, and 74% have had to change their business hours due to lack of childcare. Additionally, 55% report being challenged by a lack of time or space to work, 60% rate their daily stress level as a 4 or 5 on a five-point scale, and 50% experienced a dip or slowdown in business since Covid-19 began.
All of this has made it even more difficult for entrepreneurs, who are also mothers, to succeed. Gwen Montoya, MOB Nation’s chief marketing officer, highlighted the positives: “Although the responses show mom business owners are feeling overwhelmed, the creativity and kindness I see is amazing.”
“One member restarted her real estate career and has found that she loves it more than she did before. Another had to close her restaurant but opened a brand new brick and mortar. And yet another member had to close her in-person family movement studio and has shifted her focus to providing safe, joyful movement for expecting and new moms,” Montoya explained. “I've seen our members send everything from small notes to little gifts to cash to other mom business owners who needed extra support. Moms are resilient.”
Two women told TRUiC that, despite the odds, they’ve launched new businesses during the pandemic, including single-mom Kelly Dakis, who recently started an online farmers market, Shop Farmers Markets, with her boyfriend.
“I quickly started this delivery service, which helped me get back to work and recover, but it hurt,” she said. “It’s been great, but rough. If I didn’t have my parents to help, I wouldn’t be OK.”
Taaureane Paquette launched Massachusetts-based Taaury37, a lifestyle blog and podcast brand, during the pandemic. “It’s hard being a female in a male-dominated field of self-improvement,” she said. “To be taken seriously was difficult at first, I built my brand and showed them with the quality I can put out just as superior of a product. Always continue to be teachable and improve. Find a mentor to guide your vision.”
If you’re a female looking for guidance through this time, you can find comprehensive lists of organizations that can help, financial resources you can take advantage of, and other ways you can boost productivity and profitability.
The Association of Women’s Business Centers, which Hodges labeled as the “economic first-responders” for women during the pandemic, is another great resource. The AWBC helps connect women with business centers, where training, counseling, mentorship, and more is available. Additionally, the AWBC has partnered with the Small Business Development Centers network to create a website outlining all federal agency resources related to COVID-19 for small businesses.