COVID challenged businesswomen

·3 min read

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Women-led businesses continue to struggle throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with just over half attempting to maintain or grow their businesses in the future, according to results from a survey initiated by Paro Centre for Women’s Enterprise.

The survey showed that nine per cent of women-led businesses were considering scaling down their business and even closing.

Rosalind Lockyer, founder and CEO of Paro, says the survey provides important insights into how women navigated the COVID-19 economy and revealed many challenges for women. Among the top challenges faced by women entrepreneurs were mental health, digitizing online, rising costs/inflation, supply shortages, cultural barriers and cross-border shopping.

The major business challenge women entrepreneurs encountered during the pandemic was access to financing investments and grants.

“We have found that women have received help in getting funding, but it’s still not enough. There’s still not enough grants out there,” said Lockyer.

She said women are not getting secure loans because of the uncertainty of business and they are getting a very small portion of angel investment money, compared to men. Angel investments are investment backing from a philanthropist or larger successful company who take smaller businesses under their wing to help them grow.

“That has to change,” she said. “We will use the results of this survey to guide our activities. That’s the way Paro started right from the beginning — asking women what they need — and they know what they want.”

Paro is currently partnering with justfearlesswomen.com to provide greater access to grants and venture capital, and with Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada (WEOC) to provide increased access to loans.

“We are moving forward to see if we can get more investment for women’s businesses because I think it’s key,” she said, adding women need to learn how to better pitch themselves in their business and get these investors and get the mentoring plus the money, which I think they’re missing out on a lot.”

Lockyer found that women’s persistence and courage was evident in survey responses. However, for women to move forward as full participants in the economy, women leaders and government must work together to help women overcome challenges and access the resources they need, says Lockyer.

The survey found that women entrepreneurs found it difficult to juggle countless responsibilities including child care, elder care, home life, being online, their business, trying to grow and reimagine their business, get online with their business and learn new things.

“This is still one of the interesting things for me coming out of the survey,” she said. “The third most noted challenge was emotional and mental well being and lack of support for mental health. Like many of the women reported feeling really burned out because they were overwhelmed. We heard it in the survey loud and clear.”

More than half of the respondents (53 per cent) wanted to see the Ontario government reach an agreement with the federal government on child care, and that has now happened.

Diversity was also a concern, especially with Indigenous respondents who experienced barriers through COVID-19, including systemic racism, geographical isolation, and a lack of access to networking contacts as priorities shifted through the pandemic.

Dealing with poverty showed up in the survey as a barrier for some women who worked at survival jobs to pay bills and feed their families, which in turn, left very little time to devote to their business.

The challenges of making a digital presence in women-led businesses proved more difficult for them to adapt to the online economy that accelerated during COVID-19, according to the survey. Many of their products and services such as visual art or interior design did not adapt easily to an online environment.

Along with the new initiatives being navigated by Paro to help women and their businesses, annual surveys will continue to help evaluate the progress, growth and scale of women entrepreneurs and their future endeavours so that Paro can find more ways to help them out.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal

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