The pandemic has been hard on most small businesses, forcing them to adapt to radically altered environments, pivot to new models, apply creative thinking to solve problems for customers and themselves, and, in short, do everything they can to keep their doors open. As universal as the difficulties have been, the challenges have been even more formidable for women-owned small businesses. In large part because the physical and emotional stress of providing for their families and communities, women business owners have suffered disproportionately, losing customers, revenue and, all too frequently, even their businesses.
Yet I have witnessed first-hand how women, over and over again, have been persistent, resourceful and resilient in times of difficulty, and most have survived—and some even thrived—despite the circumstances. So, when the pandemic struck and forced women business owners to adapt, many embraced technology to grow and save their businesses. We saw it within our network of women-owned businesses be it with the rise of videoconferencing among employees or the creation of virtual product and service offerings. These business owners have recognized that a new era of digitalization ushered in by the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer optional for their future.
According to a series of recent surveys conducted in 2020 by WEConnect International on women-owned businesses during the pandemic, even in the first months after initial lockdowns ended, women began to pivot and grow, utilizing technology to offset the repercussions of the pandemic. Only 63% of respondents reported being negatively impacted by the pandemic by the end of 2020, a significant decrease from 87% in early 2020. With all the supply chain disruptions and challenges posed, it’s impressive that 37% of businesses were not affected negatively by the pandemic. Moreover, only 47% of women-owned businesses reported losing customers as face-to-face business went virtual because they pivoted their businesses to digital models. Regarding their employees, 87% of women-owned businesses increased social channels and videoconferencing at the end of 2020 to accommodate health and safety concerns, an increase from 60% in early 2020.
Aided by this digital transformation, only 56% of women-owned businesses saw a significant decrease in their end of year revenues, as compared to 90% in early 2020. This data shows the tremendous efforts women business owners have made to optimize and refocus their businesses in the face of adversity. They not only reacted to the pandemic, with 54% identifying and cutting unnecessary expenses, but also proactively found new solutions: 42% created new business lines in response to local and global needs, and 38% identified new business opportunities. They leveraged technology to adapt their business models to virtual platforms during a time when in-person meetings were no longer possible and found new ways in which technology could satisfy new demands in the market that lacked a supply.
We have so many stories, but one in particular stands out. A woman business owner in the WEConnect International network highlighted her company’s digital transformation as a new business opportunity: “Our biggest success was reinventing our services when the country was on full lockdown. Our service was face-to-face, but we still knew that clients had to continue making content. We offered and advertised services where we could direct talent remotely and do recordings over Teams/Hangout/Zoom and then do the post-production from those recordings.”
But let there be no illusion that women business owners aren’t still struggling, especially as they are left out of the vast majority of global value chain transactions worldwide.
Now, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, is the time to remove existing barriers, drive greater women’s participation in business, and address and resolve the many disparities women business owners face. Although nearly one-third of all private businesses in the world are owned by women, those same businesses receive less than 1% of large corporate and government buyer spend. If this imbalance was remedied—or even marginally improved upon—trillions of dollars would in turn be reinvested into families and communities worldwide.
The resilience that women business owners have demonstrated around the world in every single industry should inspire great confidence in international buyers looking to diversify their value chains. We need that confidence followed up with action because women-owned businesses will spur economic growth in communities around the world when given an equal opportunity to compete and serve as a key driver of the post-pandemic recovery. When women start and grow businesses, they deliver innovative solutions, create quality jobs, grow national budgets and invest their profits into their families and communities. Digital business transformations will only multiply the effect women as business owners are able to have on the world—near and far.
Buy from a women-owned business today and every day.