Earlier this year, after a week of attending meetings, I was looking forward to getting home and
putting my feet up to relax and reconnect with my family. Instead, because of staff shortages at the
airport, we were left waiting for our missing bags. ‘Where are the bags? was not the question I had
front of my mind. Instead, I found myself wondering, where are the people, and more specifically,
where are the women?
As I started thinking beyond this airport and all the shops, retail, schools, and hospitals that also
seem to be struggling with staff shortages this summer – I couldn’t help but wonder how much of
our current economic struggles stem back to the departure of women from the workplace.
We’ve paid some attention to this for women who are employees. But mostly unnoticed – very few
organizations track women’s entrepreneurship – women entrepreneurs also exited the scene or
reduced the size of their companies.
Women Stepped Up As Caregivers
During the pandemic, women entrepreneurs were more likely than men to sacrifice their time to
serve as unpaid caregivers at home – for their children or aging parents. According to the Global
State of Small Business Report, which surveyed approximately 80,000 respondents across 91
countries and seven regions, women-led businesses were around 10 percentage points more likely
than male business leaders to report that caring for children, home schooling, and household
chores were affecting their ability to focus on work. And thus, were more likely to surrender their
And time isn’t the only issue, so is money. According to research from the World Bank Organization,
support offered to women-owned businesses was less than for those run by men. For example:
companies run by women were two percentage points less likely to report accessing the public
support from banking institutions and governments, compared to companies led by men. In a
separate report, the World Bank also noted that women-led businesses faced greater financial risk
too, with many reporting having less cash available to cover their costs than their male
We Need Women Back, Leading the Way
However, during my career as the CEO of a globally diverse network of more than 16,000
entrepreneurs in 70+ countries, I’ve seen entrepreneurs leading the way in helping shape the world
to be more inclusive and equitable.
Entrepreneurs find solutions where others may see roadblocks. They shape the future they
envision, rather than bending to the pressures of how things have always been. And, for female
founders, the relentless ambition, curiosity and drive that have helped so many build their own
unique career paths, it is the entrepreneurial mindset, growing in women themselves that will get
us back on track. We see their initiative everywhere: whether starting at home as a so-called side
hustle, or taking evening classes or opening small-town brick and mortar shops.
For decades, research has shown that women-owned businesses, cooperatives and civic
organizations have been the backbone for women in developing countries to provide for their
families and participate in the wider economy. In another World Bank report that examined the
effect of women’s economic power in Latin America and the Caribbean, the female labor market
income contributed 30 percent of the reduction in extreme poverty between 2000 and 2010.
One Place To Start
The key to restoring women’s strength in the labor market is supporting women entrepreneurs. But
their experiences in the pandemic point to the complexity of this task. Women entrepreneurs may
have received government support, but other cultural factors – women’s role as caregivers, for
instance – made it harder for women than men to sustain their companies.
As with their male counterparts, female entrepreneurs tend to be bold. (So too are single mothers
who hold down two part-time jobs to provide for their families.) They’re problem solvers. They’re
risk takers. They challenge the status quo. They lean into groups where they can seek support. And
they share their resources with others in their care and in their community.
The pandemic gave us a window to understand better what holds women back. We know finance is
one great disparity. But our systems for collecting data about women and entrepreneurship aren’t
nearly as robust as they need to be. But unfortunately, not many people have yet asked where are
the women, or noticed what happened to women entrepreneurs during the pandemic, even though
they could be one of our strongest engines of economic growth and equality.
We all need to be broadcasting the effects of the pandemic on women’s entrepreneurship – and
demanding more attention to the underlying causes of the inequality. Together, women
entrepreneurs are essential to restoring the economy and ensuring it is more inclusive and
equitable for everyone.
Dr. Carrie Santos is CEO, Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.