By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on October 22, 2021.
The Women’s Enterprise Organization of Canada released a study about the effects of the pandemic on female business owners.
In its key findings, the study explains that Canadian women entrepreneurs have had to pivot and adapt to changes in the business environment caused by the pandemic. Most notably, the need to increase a business’s digital presence in an effort to reach customers.
“The pandemic certainly forced businesses to look at their online presence,” said Alison Kirkland, CEO of WEOC. “It was necessary because they weren’t meeting with clients and customers face-to-face, (so the question became) how do we connect with them in a digital way?
“Women were looking to make that move, (the pandemic) just sped up that process.”
The study also found most women entrepreneurs felt their business could benefit from financial assistance, but some faced barriers in accessing government funding. Kirkland attributes this to the eligibility criteria for pandemic financial assistance.
“There were a lot of resources put forward to support businesses, but women-owned businesses weren’t necessarily eligible for those resources (as) some of the supports put in were really not conducive to the types of businesses women own.”
As reopening slowly takes place, the study found many women entrepreneurs feel optimistic about the future, especially those who are supported by their female peers in the business sector. This can be felt at a local level, says Joely Augustino, a representative from Medicine Hat’s Women in Business society and owner of Fig & Olive Charcuterie and Grazing Co.
“COVID has really allowed us to band together,” Augustino told the News. “Many of our small businesses (in Medicine Hat) will share with one another how each is doing through this pandemic.”
Augustino understands how important this is. When she was affected by COVID earlier in the year, many other female business owners in the city reached out to her.
“There was an outpouring of support (from local small businesses) on my social media,” said Augustino. “Even my business being a brand new business, I have had many people come to us and say, ‘How can we help you?’
“If you can get women behind you that really believe in one another … it becomes almost a community business.”
Kirkland acknowledges that support from other women-owned businesses is important, however for growth in the business sector, female entrepreneurs also need to be provided appropriate resources
In response to the findings, WEOC recommended there be more resources and targeted learning opportunities for women entrepreneurs, whether that be provided by the government or through women’s entrepreneur organizations. It was also recommended a loan program that addresses the needs of women entrepreneurs be established.
“We know that women in general have been dramatically affected … business ownership just adds another layer of complexity,” said Kirkland.