Overcoming The ‘She-cession’: 3 Steps To Ensure Women Entrepreneurs Achieve Post-Pandemic Recovery

By Kawal Preet | November 19, 2020

There’s little doubt the COVID-19 downturn has adversely affected women, many of them in small businesses and start-ups across our region.

Women’s jobs are almost twice as vulnerable as men’s in this pandemic, due to shouldering the burden for increased childcare or distance learning. COVID-19 might have turned back the clock on women’s workforce participation and entrepreneurship - for instance, the number of women participating in the workforce in October 2020 was the same as in 1988 - but the truth is many new ideas and businesses are being created, too. Workplace flexibility has created more diverse talent pools and new opportunities for women-led businesses.

In this time of enormous challenge and great change, we have to snap into action to ensure support for small business is targeted and gender-responsive. Our response must account for the unique challenges faced by women-led businesses. We must make sure no one is left behind.

So how can we help female entrepreneurs not only stay in business, but thrive? There are three basic steps to take now to help women-run businesses recover from the post-COVID ‘She-cession.’

1. Rebuild - and fast

First, we must rebuild our economies – and fast. Governments around the world are injecting financial stimulus into their economies to help businesses get back on the path to recovery. But recovery won’t look the same for everyone.

We need to get start-ups and small to mid-sized businesses into recovery mode; they are the engines that keep our economies running. But the economic downturn has taken its toll. More than 80% of female entrepreneurs in Asia-Pacific have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, with 77% selling fewer products and services.

Yet on the upside, if we promote the value of women-led business, and that of female entrepreneurs, we have the potential to transform economies if we move quickly from strategy to action.

McKinsey forecasts an additional $13 trillion could be added to global GDP in 2030 – but only if we take action now to advance gender equality.The message is clear - act decisively and act now.

Everywhere I turn, innovation is emerging in response to COVID-19. With many companies working from home, 2020 has accelerated digital adoption and greater use of technology by women. In fact, these tumultuous times could provide the greatest opportunity for innovation-led growth we’ve had in decades.

2. Re-define business connectivity

That’s why the second step is to re-define what future start-ups look like to offer support women entrepreneurs need to thrive.

For women to compete in this recovery, we must reduce the internet user gender gap further, and leverage e-commerce to tap new markets. Women-owned businesses still have difficulty accessing the full potential of e-commerce. Globally, only 15% of firms that export are led by women.

Participating successfully in cross-border e-commerce requires strong connectivity in both logistics support and technology. Digital differentiation is absolutely critical for female entrepreneurs, and Asia is at the very centre of how we reimagine this transformation.

There is an urgent need to build digital capacity for women entrepreneurs - from online payments to customer services and customs processes. Research shows that engaging women-owned businesses in cross-border e-commerce not only delivers productivity gains of 6 to 15%, it doubles their participation in these markets.

One female-led luxury packaging company in the Philippines had to suspend operations during COVID-19 lockdown. But with the benefit of technology, and global supply chain connections, they continued to win new projects while running the business from home. Now they are looking to expand their client base to the Middle East.

So even small companies can disrupt their thinking to create new business and production models. We can connect women to programs and policies that empower the next generation of entrepreneurs, helping them access markets and grow. We can support women-led firms by identifying and implementing the very best solutions so they can compete in home markets and in cross-border e-commerce. Remaining agile and flexible are keys to survival.

3. Re-think how women entrepreneurs can ‘break through’

In such a rapidly changing business environment, the third step towards recovery is re-thinking everything that has gone before. The pandemic is pushing us to work together in new ways to create ecosystem-wide innovation.

The gendered nature of entrepreneurship means support and finance networks are often targeted at men, so we need more gender-neutral tools and resources for women entrepreneurs. Organisations such as the Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME) and the Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) are great examples of support and business connections. Not solely to overcome challenges women face in securing funding, but in figuring out how best to grow their business and reach velocity of scale.

The exciting thing is that women’s economic power is still growing. Women-owned companies account for more than 40% of registered businesses worldwide, while female consumers are expected to spend more than $40 trillion globally this year.

Take femtech – which ranges from fertility and pregnancy care, to wearable devices, to connected health services, and general wellbeing. Femtech is expected to grow into a $50 billion industry by 2025. This next generation of entrepreneurs know that catering to female consumers makes good business sense.

The next step is helping entrepreneurs prioritize support and collaboration to protect and promote their competitiveness on the world stage. Gender diversity in business is good for families, communities and economies – as women do better, we all do better.

Action required: progress is on the line

We know women have juggled multiple roles during the pandemic. As we re-imagine and re-build business models for recovery, we have to re-think ways to remove gender disparities and barriers to work. We must work together to increase the economic participation of women in the workforce and in entrepreneurship.

There are real concerns that if we don’t take action now, all the gains made towards gender parity in recent years will be wiped out at an economic cost in the trillions. We simply can’t afford to wait.
About the Author
the author bio

Kawal Preet

Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, FedEx Express

Kawal started out as a FedEx engineer in Singapore over 20 years ago, and she’s now the President of FedEx Express AMEA. Kawal is based in Hong Kong.

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