Majority of women business owners struggle to operate amid COVID-19 pandemic

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61% of women business owners have found operating a business during the pandemic a struggle, with 44% finding the task ‘not doable’, according to new research conducted by Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE).

The survey, conducted by a community, training and coaching platform for women entrepreneurs, showed that women’s businesses have experienced financial turmoil in this time with 28% stating work had completely dried up, 31% reporting work had reduced during the pandemic, and strikingly a further 11% who said work was booming but they were not able to fulfil it due to competing demands. It seems the economic uncertainty of the current times has also fed into decision making for women business owners, with 62% stating that it was their biggest barrier to business growth or success at this time.

Academy for Entrepreneurs Co-Founder and award-winning coach, Ceylan Boyce, comments: “Whilst there are many practical challenges facing women in this pandemic, there are also mindset challenges. One of those relates to risk. My experience coaching women is that we perceive risk differently to men. We are perhaps more risk-averse and in the global pandemic with things feeling so uncertain, I do worry that women may be more averse to taking decisions that could ultimately lead to success and growth.”

Seeking to understand the competing demands and responsibilities faced by women business owners, the survey highlighted that 67% of respondents with children had the responsibility of home educating, whilst 49% of respondents said ‘more housework and cleaning’ was an additional responsibility during the pandemic. Strikingly, 67% of all respondents cited ‘more emotional support for relatives and friends’ as an extra responsibility caused by the pandemic, which could link to the unseen emotional labour women take on often in the interest of looking after others.

Academy for Women Entrepreneurs Co-Founder, Ceylan Boyce says: “Had the pandemic lasted just two or three months, then perhaps all these findings – including those that suggest women who own businesses simply aren’t finding it to be a doable situation – would not be so concerning but it’s now been nearly a year. I feel it would be a huge shame to see talented women unable to fully pursue their businesses because of the pandemic. I’m grateful that the AWE community has provided a framework for many business-owners who were struggling to see a way through and to consider solutions for some of these unique challenges but I’m sure there are many other women business owners – some of which participated in our survey – who are seeking solutions.”

To understand the context in which many of these women work, the survey sought to understand their living circumstances, with it revealing 8% lived alone, 42% lived with a partner or spouse and 40% lived with partner or spouse and/or children. 77% of respondents had a partner or spouse who was full time employed.

Ceylan Boyce continues: “I have long held the concern that when women set up their own businesses, there is an outdated perception that it is simply a ‘supplementary income’ – and indeed I think many women also believe this about themselves. I do see this as a limiting belief as many women-owned businesses have such potential but there are several institutional factors holding women back and I think the pandemic has laid those bare and created new ones. In the context of the pandemic, I can empathise with people prioritising the job of the full time employed partner, but I wonder at what cost and whether there may be greater earning potential – not to mention lifestyle freedom – were perceptions different.”

Despite the challenges facing women business owners, there remained a determined spirit which seemed to be buoyed by the community and support many have found in platforms like Academy for Women Entrepreneurs, with one respondent stating: “Asking for help is key to growth – no woman is an island.”

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