4 key trends on how COVID has impacted women in business

women news

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Philippe Le Houérou, Chief Executive Officer, International Finance Corporation


  • Recent surveys highlight the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on businesses owned by women.
  • One of the surveys identified four key trends among female-owned businesses in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
  • Here are four steps private companies can take to help close this gender gap.

Much has been written about the disproportionate health and economic impact on women and men due to COVID-19 but few have studied how those variations affect businesses or how private sector leaders can rebuild their business with a focus on gender equality.

Even before the pandemic hit, developing countries were losing nearly $48 trillion in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men. The pervasive inequality could further widen due to the impact of the current crisis.

Women now struggle even more than before to retain an equal footing in the economy. Their COVID-19 experience is shaped by rising domestic and workplace violence, higher care responsibilities, precariousness of jobs and a disproportionate lack of access to working capital and digital tools such as mobile phones.

When it comes to the private sector, the evidence – although less comprehensive – points to similar imbalances.

In a study carried out by the International Trade Center, 64% of women-led firms declared their business operations as strongly affected, compared with 52% of men-led companies. More than 90% of women entrepreneurs reported a decrease in sales during the pandemic and have less than three months of cash flow to survive, according to another survey from WEConnect International.

To better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the business operations of companies from a gender perspective, IFC and its partners recently surveyed companies in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The survey – of more than 600 female-led micro, small, and medium sized businesses (MSMEs) – revealed the following four key trends among private sector companies:

1. One third of female entrepreneurs feel that increased care demands have reduced their ability to focus their attention on their businesses, hurting their ability to generate income. In a recent client survey in Egypt, companies said that women employees, especially during required home-based work, were more inclined to resign due to increasing childcare needs.

2. The survey of 600 companies also found many firms are struggling to make the shift to adapt quickly to digital operations. The pandemic has revealed digital connectivity is a critical element for business continuity but many companies—including their employees, suppliers, and consumers—were not prepared for the digital shift.

For women, this shift is even more challenging, across low- and middle-income countries, 300 million fewer women than men use mobile internet, representing a gender gap of 23%. These barriers are reducing women’s ability to work remotely or access digital markets.

Women-owned businesses around the world have been hit hard by the pandemic
Women-owned businesses around the world have been hit hard by the pandemic
Image: WEConnect International

3. In addition, companies do not know how to address the mental health and well-being of employees during the pandemic. More than one third of women-owned MSMEs have expressed increased anxiety due to the uncertainty of COVID 19 and concerns on how to support the health and wellbeing of employees.

4. Additionally, our clients pointed out that restrictions in movement have led to more incidences of intimate partner and family violence, hurting the productivity of firms as they struggle to deal with its mental and economic impact on their employees.

Together, these factors could affect women’s opportunities to cope with the crisis and widen differences in education, health, and capital when the pandemic fades. These differences will also slow down the economic recovery. Deepening economic gaps between men and women will jeopardize a fast return from a recession through huge gaps in productivity.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress towards closing gender gaps on a national level. To turn these insights into concrete action and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public private collaboration.

These accelerators have been convened in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank.

In 2019 Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women represent only a little over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the workforce are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to reach senior management roles.

France has become the second G20 country to launch a Gender Gap Accelerator, signalling that developed economies are also playing an important role in spearheading this approach to closing the gender gap.

In these countries CEOs and ministers are working together in a three-year time frame on policies that help to further close the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries you can join the local membership base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we currently do not have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator you can reach out to us to explore opportunities for setting one up.

Experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic could set back gender equality efforts by decades unless the global community takes steps to stem the slide. A meaningful recovery from the crisis must consider the needs of half of the world’s population. Here’s what the private sector can do:

1. Support home-based work, care options, and flexible work schedules. Recruit, retain and promote women during and after the crisis to prevent loss of talent.

2. Enable women entrepreneurs – including across the supply chain – access to working capital and insurance products to help stabilize their businesses.

3. Invest in digital infrastructure to boost home-based work opportunities and mobile internet access, where women significantly lag behind men. IFC clients have been deploying innovative and simple digital solutions to adapt their business models to be more inclusive during the pandemic.

4. Ensure the safety of employees and suppliers by addressing violence and harassment at the company level.

Business leaders will need to emerge from this crisis demonstrating how they responsibly navigated the pandemic. To accelerate progress in rebuilding sustainable companies, we will need to ensure that both women and men can return to economic activities by participating equally as employees, as investors, and as borrowers.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

The Japanese have a word to help them be less wasteful – ‘mottainai’

Commission adopts €70 million package for early access to EU COVID-19 vaccines in the Western Balkans

Who holds the key to the future of biotechnology? You do

UN rights chief bemoans unilateral sanctions on Venezuela, fearing ‘far-reaching implications’

Aid used for trade is helping developing countries diversify

OECD leading multilateral efforts to address tax challenges from digitalisation of the economy

UN rights expert calls for end to ‘purgatory’ of ‘international inaction’ facing Myanmar’s remaining Rohingya

Trump wants to implicate China in US attacks against global order

Is “Sustainable Development” a concept that integrates Health Literacy and Health Policy as a global health action?

With science ‘held back by a gender gap’, Guterres calls for more empowerment for women and girls

Human Rights Council election: 5 things you need to know about it

EU budget: Boosting cooperation between tax and customs authorities for a safer and more prosperous EU

Eurozone plans return to growth

Climate change update: consistent global actions urgently needed as we are running out of time

Fair completion rules and the law of gravity don’t apply to banks

Eurozone very close to a sustainable growth path

FROM THE FIELD: For refugees and migrants in Europe, healthcare’s essential but a challenge to find

Coronavirus: Commission receives first preliminary application for support from the EU Solidarity Fund for health emergency from Italy

On Human Rights Day European Youth Forum calls for end to discrimination of young people

With Gaza violence ‘escalating as we speak,’ UN envoy calls for ‘immediate stop’

Suffering of thousands of war-affected Syrian children ‘unprecedented and unacceptable’

#TwitterisblockedinTurkey and so is Erdogan

Ukraine: €8 million in humanitarian aid to withstand winter

‘Agile’, multilateral response vital to combat terrorism – UN chief Guterres

5 facts you might not know about why forest biodiversity matters

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Belgium, Italy, Austria, and Slovenia submit official recovery and resilience plans

Australia wants to build a giant underground ‘battery’ to help power the nation

Commission proposes to top up support for refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey

Four things workers want implemented by their bosses post-pandemic

Industrial price dive may lead to point of no return

5 creative alternatives to plastic packaging

FROM THE FIELD: Malawi farmers diversify to fight climate change

The JADE Spring Meeting is about to begin

Boris to end up in jail if he loses the next elections?

6 ways to ensure AI and new tech works for – not against – humanity

Pushing for tax fairness in a digital world

‘Global clarion call’ for youth to shape efforts to forge peace in the most dangerous combat zones

Global health challenges require global medical students

Safer products: EP and Council close deal to beef up checks and inspections

Nagasaki is ‘a global inspiration’ for peace, UN chief says marking 73rd anniversary of atomic bombing

Investing in nature gives industry and business a competitive advantage. Here’s why

CLIMATE CHANGE FOCUS: Climate-proofing Timor-Leste

UNICEF warns of ‘lost generation’ of Rohingya youth, one year after Myanmar exodus

Here’s how we get businesses to harmonize on climate change

EU allocates over €43 million in humanitarian aid to South Sudan

The 5 lessons from New York Climate Week to help us combat deforestation

UN rights office calls on Zimbabwe Government to end ‘crackdown’ in response to fuel protests

1 in 13 young British people have PTSD. Here’s why

The blackened white coat of the doctors

The clothes of the future could be made from pineapples and bananas

COVID-19: Team Europe supports African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to access finance through digital technology

Christine Lagarde: the three priorities for the global economy

“Asia-Pacific takes stock of ambitious development targets”, written by the Heads of UNFPA and ESCAP

Healthcare guidance apps to professional’s continued education?

End fossil fuel subsidies, and stop using taxpayers’ money to destroy the world: Guterres

Youth not prioritised in new Commission

State aid: Commission approves €286 million Finnish measure to recapitalise Finnair

A bad marriage can be as unhealthy as smoking and drinking

Coronavirus Global Response: Commission joins the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX)

Eurozone’s sovereign debt not a problem anymore?

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s