It is impossible to measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic without viewing it through a gendered lens. Although medically, the virus has hit men harder than women, it is evident that women have faced a far worse effect in the socio-economic aspect. Furthermore, there are reports which suggest that the COVID-19 induced socio-economic challenges are disproportionately impacting those women who own approximately one-third of all privately-owned businesses globally.
To understand their challenges and ability to adapt and build resiliency during a global pandemic, WEConnect International – a global platform that connects businesswomen to buyers — has been surveying a wide range of women business owners about the scope and nature of the impacts COVID-19 is having on them and their companies.
The vast majority of women-owned businesses–more than 80 per cent in India–reported being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and most had experienced a reduction in revenue, while others had excess inventory and cancelled orders or both. According to the platform’s ongoing COVID survey, initiated last year, 55 per cent of women-owned businesses in India have reported that opportunities to shift to a digital model are paramount to survival.
The President, CEO and Co-founder of WeConnect International, Elizabeth A. Vazquez, told News18.com in a recent interview that despite the challenges, many women business owners have demonstrated remarkable resilience and creativity in dealing with the pandemic and have shown how a digital model can knock down barriers and help women’s entry in global markets through easier access to potential customers and collaboration with a wide network of women-owned businesses for mentorship and support.
Levelling the Playing Field in Digital Spaces
“E-commerce has the potential to help level the economic playing field for women-owned businesses, especially in developing countries like India. The United Nations High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment (2017) highlights that mobile phones and digital platforms are already benefitting women-owned micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) by connecting them to markets, providing training and facilitating their collective action. However, the pandemic has proven that digital access must be accelerated to enable these businesses to keep their doors open,” said Vazquez.
Vazquez explained that digital access goes well beyond a simple internet connection; it’s about women using e-commerce as a tool to sell their products to large buyers inside and outside of their country.
“Action is needed now by governments to develop and implement policies that enable and amplify digital access, as well as training on how MSMEs can sell their goods and services online,” she claimed.
Buy More From Women-Owned Businesses
The first step towards helping women entrepreneurs is to buy more women-owned products and solutions. “Many more women should be encouraged to bring their ideas to market so that we can do business better together—better on quality, better for the planet and better for an increasingly diverse community of global citizens hungry for the solutions that women can deliver if given an equal opportunity,” she said.
Addressing gender inequality is crucial for economic growth and enabling women is essential because women also spend more on families and communities as compared to their male counterparts. In a country like India, where only 25 per cent of the current labour force is female, there is a lot to be gained if women are encouraged to join in, facilitated, and given the necessary support to thrive.
“Currently women owned businesses receive less than 1% of the total money spent on products and services but imagine the multiplier effect that could occur with numerous large buyers accept the challenge of proving that 1% to 2% could make a multi-billion-dollar difference annually with suppliers. As a result, the year 2025 could look very different: Equal roles in the labour market could result in as much as $28 trillion or 26% added to the global annual GDP. Implementing full economic gender parity could add more than $1.2 trillion to the GDP of the United States, $325 billion to that of Japan, and $240 billion to that of the UK. Advancing women’s equality in India could achieve an 18% increase over business-as-usual GDP, or $770 billion. Advancing women’s equality in business could increase global GDP by $5.87 trillion, “predicted Vazquez.
The CEO explained that many of WeConnect’s member buyers companies such as Accenture, Cisco, Intel, IBM, Johnson and Johnson, Marriott and P&G are already sourcing parts of their value chain from South Asia. “By increasing their efforts to source more from women-owned businesses in India, global and regional buyers can contribute both to their companies’ ability to meet public targets and make progress toward other capacity-building goals,” said Vazquez.
Many organizations and governments have raised awareness of the challenges diversity and inclusion are designed to solve, but there has been little change beyond the workforce. The general consensus is that meaningful change has been agonizingly slow for the majority of women around the world and that progress can only be made with intentional and visible actions from senior leaders of large organizations.
Making Women Visible in The Value Chain
In order to secure bank loans, women-owned businesses have to prove that they are viable. The more they sell and make profits, the more inclined investors would be to put in their money, and if they can offer collaterals, banks will be eager lenders. However, that wouldn’t happen in India until women become visible in the value chain.
“In addition to bank loans, women who own businesses also want access to sources of organic growth—income that does not need to be paid back with interest—they want contracts to fill orders, deliver goods and grow their businesses. Women business owners in India receive a small fraction of the bank loans and venture investments available to men business owners, and that has to change,” pointed out Vazquez.
“They (women) also receive less than 1% of the total money spent on products and services by large buyers in India; they are invisible in value chains. Women need specific support to shine a light on their ability to deliver solutions and do so if given an equal opportunity to compete. We all must work together to leverage our purchasing power, making it easier for supply and demand to connect inside and outside of India,” she added.