Female entrepreneurs, businesses crushed during COVID-19 pandemic

  • At the start of the pandemic, 27% of women-run businesses were closed compared to only 20% of businesses run by men.
  • Female business owners are pulling a “double-double shift,” where they are struggling to keep both their families and small businesses afloat.
  • Nearly 25% of female small-business leaders said that they are spending six hours or more a day on domestic responsibilities, compared to only 11% of men.
  • But women business owners were 15% more likely to make more than half of their sales through online channels. They were also three times as likely to start or increase using digital tools during the pandemic.
  • Sheryl Sandberg is chief operating officer at Facebook. This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

You’ve seen the signs in darkened windows on Main Street. You’ve seen them at half-empty malls, shuttered corner stores, and the door of your favorite family diner. You see these notes of sadness, often written in the shaky hand of a neighbor. “Due to the pandemic,” they say, “we’re closed.”

The global pandemic has forced tens of thousands of small businesses to temporarily close, and according to one survey, nearly two-thirds of them will never reopen. Local coffee shops, clothing boutiques, restaurants, and several other beacons of American communities face extinction — and with them the livelihoods of their owners. My heart aches for every struggling small-business owner, but especially those hardest-hit by the COVID-19 economy: women entrepreneurs.

According to Facebook’s latest “Global State of Small Business Report,” female-owned small businesses were more likely to close compared to their male-owned counterparts. At the height of the stay-at-home orders in March and April, 27% of women-run businesses were closed compared to only 20% of businesses run by men.

We know why this is happening. Before the pandemic many women already pulled a “double shift” – doing their jobs then returning home where they are responsible for the majority of childcare and domestic work.

Research by my foundation, LeanIn.org, found caring for sick or elderly family members and homeschooling kids during the pandemic created a “double-double shift” for women with full-time jobs and families. Per week, these women are averaging 20 more hours of caregiving and housework than men. For women of color and single moms, the demands are even greater.

For female entrepreneurs, the “double-double shift” finds them struggling to keep both their families and small businesses afloat. Nearly 25% of female small-business leaders surveyed by Facebook said that they are spending six hours or more a day on domestic responsibilities, compared to only 11% of men.

Yet despite all this, there is a bright spot for female entrepreneurs. They are demonstrating incredible resilience and adaptation to COVID-19 by shifting their businesses online. According to our Facebook small-business survey, women owners were 15% more likely to make more than half of their sales through online channels. They were also three times as likely to start or increase using digital tools during the pandemic.

One woman perfectly exemplifies this trend. Her name is Margie Wildason of Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. She started “Tutu n You” six years ago, sewing and selling tutus when she noticed that some parents didn’t have the ability to make tutus for their kids’ dance recitals. Combining her passion for dance, eye for design, and skills from a career in direct sales, Margie pivoted her career and grew a business using personalized ads on Facebook and Messenger to interact with customers. Business was booming.

Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, there were no craft fairs, no trade shows, and no dance recitals. As Margie worried about how to keep her business going, she also dealt with the emotional strain of her father’s death from COVID-19. She threw herself into her work, adapting and thriving.

Margie realized she could once again pivot and put her sewing skills to good use by making masks for healthcare workers. Asking only for the shipping costs, Margie saw overwhelming demand on her Facebook page.

She sewed 15 hours a day, pivoting to custom-made masks for special occasions, including bridal and baby showers. As she changed her product line from tutus to masks, Margie once again relied on Facebook to find new customers. Now that dance studios have reopened, she is taking orders for both.

“My world collapsed on me when COVID-19 came along,” Margie said. “So, I did what women do: I adapted and I worked harder than ever before in my career. The internet saved my business.”

Margie reflects the unique strength and staying power of female small-business owners: They not only out-hustle their male counterparts, they do so online and with cutting-edge digital tools. But woman like Margie need help, which is why in 2016 Facebook launched #SheMeansBusiness, an online program for entrepreneurial women to make valuable connections, share advice, and move forward together.

To date we’ve trained more than a million women in 48 markets around the world. This online training has not only helped female business owners learn new digital skills but has created a new online community.

Facebook and other technology companies need to build new tools and features to better help small-business owners engage with their existing customers and reach new ones. We know that these digital tools will help all small-business owners, but especially female entrepreneurs who are more likely than businessmen to lean into the internet to survive the pandemic.

In times of crisis, when hustle and ingenuity count the most, it’s women like Margie who are getting ahead of the curve and making the move online.

Sheryl Sandberg is chief operating officer at Facebook, overseeing the firm’s business operations. Sheryl is the coauthor of “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy” with Wharton professor and best-selling author Adam Grant. She is also the author of the bestsellers “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” and “Lean In for Graduates.” She is the founder of the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to build a more equal and resilient world through two key initiatives, LeanIn.Org and OptionB.Org.

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