The COVID-19 pandemic has made business more difficult for many companies, but small businesses owned by women may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic.
It’s no secret that the pandemic has been affecting female work, since women are overrepresented in sectors like service and hospitality that have seen big decreases during the past six months. But recent reporting shows that the pandemic’s impact on women extends beyond employees to business owners too.
A report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that 47% of female business owners rated their business’ health as “good,” compared to 62% of male business owners. The same report found that women-owned businesses were less likely to be seeking investment, expanding their staffing or expecting an increase in revenue.
Businesses owned by women of color may be particularly vulnerable.
Jeannine Cook opened Harriet’s Bookstore in Philadelphia in February. When the pandemic hit a month later, she wondered if she made a mistake, she told NBC News. She wondered whether she should quit, or double down, but ultimately decided that she needed to push ahead.
“I knew, as an entrepreneur, that was a part of it. I just didn’t know to this extent,” she said.
Women and people of color have historically had trouble accessing financing, which can be essential for growing a business. That played out in the pandemic as well. Reports from the spring said that up to 90% of female- and minority-owned businesses were unable to access the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), offered by the Federal Small Business Administration to keep businesses going during the pandemic.
Still, for business owners like Cook, dealing with obstacles is nothing new.
“If you understand that systemic racism lives in the institutions that … you’re up against, you have to do the work of creating something as an alternative,” Cook said.
Many women have had to get creative to keep their businesses alive during COVID. In addition to accessing funding, women have picked up a disproportionate amount of childcare and household responsibilities during the lockdown and remote learning.
Allegra LaViola, owner of Sargent’s Daughters art gallery in New York City, had to balance being a business owner while suddenly having no access to childcare for her two-year-old, she told CNBC.
“How can I work if I have to take care of a very small child who cannot be physically left alone,” she said.
Still, some female-owned businesses are thriving. In New Hampshire, Laura Simoes and Kristyn Van Ostern founded Wash Street — a laundry service with free pick-up and delivery — three years ago. But since the pandemic, their business has increased up to 80%, as busy families look for any ways to decrease their stress levels.
In Chicago, Yari Vargas, owner of the restaurant Casa Yari, said that the community has stepped up to support her business by getting takeout during the pandemic.
“I’ve never felt so much love like I have these past few months to be honest,” she told Chicago’s WGN9.
Amy Fahey, of First Women Bank, told the station that female entrepreneurs are used to adapting.
“In some respects it doesn’t surprise me,” she said. “They are finding ways to re-tool and deal with whatever circumstances there are.”
Cook, owner of Harriet’s Bookstore, said it’s important for women and people of color to stay in businesses to inspire the next generation.
“We had a little 7-year-old girl come in here, she’s buying all these books,” she said. “She said that she wants to open a bookshop one day. I never had that reality when I was a 7-year-old little girl, right? But that’s the reality moving forward. And that’s why it is important for us to be at the forefront of business ownership.”