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.
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