Without an ounce of doubt, coronavirus was the highlight of 2020. All focus shifted from entrepreneurs, politicians and common man to having a vaccine to deal with the pandemic. It posed a slew of challenges for most of us, but particularly for women entrepreneurs. However, the new normal has brought about significant challenges and catalyzing changes for businesswomen in India.
In a joint survey conducted by Bain and Company, Google, AWE Foundation that interviewed nearly 350 women solopreneurs and small businesswomen in urban India found that nearly 73 percent of the women were negatively impacted; the revenue of almost 20 percent of the women entrepreneurs slipped to zero. Meanwhile, due to the change in buying behavior and reprioritizing expenses, many women-led businesses witnessed wholesale drop in revenue. Nearly 20 percent of the respondents cited disrupted supply chains and lack of financial resources as two of the major challenges. This had indeed induced almost several women entrepreneurs to close their shop forever. Another research by Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) reveal that women-led businesses are twice as likely to close permanently when compared to businesses led by men.
Looking at the Positive Side
Indeed increased domestic responsibilities and distractions have played crucial roles in lower productivity of women. A survey conducted by WeConnect International stated that one in four women entrepreneurs surveyed said that the increase in domestic demands placed on them during the lockdowns have reduced their time they devoted to their businesses. The case with India is no different.
However, despite so much of negativity, women leaders and entrepreneurs are gearing up for 2021 and are optimistic about the new year and their goals. Most women entrepreneurs are expecting hyper-growth of their business and are gearing up to expand globally. But this means that they need to revisit diversity and inclusion from a different angle, which is going to be a major challenge. Why so? Because most of the companies will continue to have their employees working remotely. This means the employees not just have to bring their personal skills to the table but also their personal environment to the forefront. This also means that when working virtually, you give a glimpse of your homes and personal lives to your colleagues and clients.
While 2020 was all about making peace with remote working, 2021 will be a year of experimenting and discovering efficacy and pitfalls of remote working and the work culture of the new normal. Though now we care less about who is behind the digital walls getting the work done, but still women will be looked at with skepticism. Is she really working and what to do when all are working from home? In this gig economy, there is no work hour restrictions – i.e. 9 to 5. It will be important for women entrepreneurs to get adapted to this new work style and appreciate the flexibility more than anything else. And this work from home will also ensure more women are included in the workforce. However, what will matter more is trusting them and their work method while giving them space to breathe in between.
The challenge will also be to counter the growing burnout among employees and diminishing mental health of the work population. What is causing this is the increasing social distance between the colleagues, all thanks to the digital workplace and hence we now have to find a new digital ‘water cooler’ to chit chat.
Women entrepreneurs are quite optimistic about the bounce back despite near-term shrinkage and are quick to shift their business models for greater relevance. As women-led businesses are more nimble, less capital intensive and are largely service-oriented, most of them have quickly adapted to the changing environment. On the other hand, the pandemic and the lockdowns have given us enough time to rethink our strategies, deliveries and offerings. It is important that we take our lessons from it and make 2021 a better year for not just for us (women entrepreneurs) but the whole world. As it is rightly said in India ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’.