The coronavirus pandemic has hit women in business particularly hard

Gene Marks
·4 min read
<span>Photograph: borchee/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: borchee/Getty Images

It’s hard enough being a female business owner or employee in a world still very much dominated by men. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has made things even harder.

That’s according to a new report released by the Female Founders Alliance, a non-profit network of companies and individuals that provides resources and programming for women and non-binary founders, investors and entrepreneurs. Their September 2020 study, which included an undisclosed number of professional women and non-binary individuals, found that, before the pandemic, 87% of respondents said they were “highly likely to start a company” whereas, six months later, 51% said they had “delayed or scrapped their plans”.

Related: My election advice to small businesses? Let your people vote | Gene Marks

The study dovetails with other reports that have recently come to light about the impact that the pandemic has been having on female workers and employees. Spoiler alert: it’s been very, very tough.

For example, Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn organization, has been published numerous reports throughout the summer documenting how many women are “maxing out and burning out”, and facing a financial crisis due to the pandemic’s impact on their careers and home lives. “Covid-19 threatens to roll back the progress we have painstakingly made over the last five to 10 years for women in the workplace,” Sandberg recently told NPR. “We are pulling the alarm bell here.”

The Department of Labor reports that 865,000 women across many industries have left the workforce between August and September compared with 216,000 men. A recent joint study from McKinsey and LeanIn found that one in four women have or are considering downshifting their career or leaving the workplace early, all because of the pandemic. To make matters worse, yet another report found that men, by a margin of more than four to one, are being promoted even while working at home compared with their female counterparts.

“Women are already underrepresented in the workforce and this will wind back hard-earned progress.” Rachel Thomas, a co-founder and CEO of LeanIn told CNN.

Does any of this come as a surprise? Not to me. Despite all the progress female entrepreneurs and employees have made over the years – and all you need to do is watch a few episodes of Mad Men to understand just how much – there’s still a long way to go before women are truly treated equally in the workplace to their male counterparts.

The reasons are obvious. With so many of us being stuck at home with kids learning virtually, who’s doing the heavy lifting? Yeah, it’s the moms. I will say that, anecdotally, many of the work-from-home moms I know are choosing to focus more on their kids, schools and other household duties than their male partners. Some I know are enjoying the opportunity. But I’m not so sure they’re being given much of a choice.

Companies need to recognize the burdens women, particularly women of color, are facing at home

Sheryl Sandberg

I have confidence that, once the pandemic is behind us, female entrepreneurs and employees will pick things up where they left them. But there’s been a significant setback in their progress, and as business owners, we must be very aware of the challenges that our female employees, partners and owners of the firms we sell to and buy from are dealing with right now. That means offering more flexibility, time off, patience and accommodation. Most people won’t ask for that kind of help. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need it.

“Companies need to be flexible,” Sandberg said in the NPR report. “Companies need to recognize the burdens women, particularly women of color, are facing at home. And companies need to adjust so that we don’t lose the talent, the female talent, the women, the women of color that are so critical to doing well going forward.”

One bright spot for females: according to another report from McKinsey geared to wealth managers, due to demographic changes that are quietly happening right now, American women by 2030 are expected to control “much of the $30 trillion” in financial assets that the ageing baby boomer population possesses. It is expected to be a substantial increase from the $10.9tn in household assets women currently control and would be “a potential wealth transfer of such magnitude that it approaches the annual GDP of the United States”.

This is a wake-up call for male leaders, bosses and business owners: do your best to help your female workers, partners, customers and suppliers during these difficult times. It’s not only the right thing to do. It will in the future turn out to be the profitable thing to do as well.