How is COVID-19 affecting women entrepreneurs in Scotland?

24th February 2021
Written by: Norin Arshed, Fellowship with the Scottish Parliament Information Centre.

This blog summarises the emerging themes from ongoing research to understand the challenges women entrepreneurs in Scotland face from COVID-19. It follows 11 focus groups with women entrepreneurs across six regions of Scotland. A further 12 women entrepreneurs who engaged in monthly interviews for four months, are also included in the analysis of emerging evidence.

The COVID-19 crisis represents an existential threat to many women-owned firms, and generally women entrepreneurs face greater challenges than men during this pandemic. For example, women tend to work in sectors disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and social-distancing (e.g. hospitality, personal services and non-food retail) – these businesses were the first to close and last to re-open. Women are also frequently restricted due to gendered caring responsibilities for sick or isolating relatives, home-schooling children and nursery closures. Given that Scotland is currently experiencing its third lockdown since March 2020, it seems possible that many businesses will not survive.

However, there are several findings from the initial analysis which not only highlight challenges, but also opportunities that have been raised by women entrepreneurs during the pandemic. The impacts of the pandemic have exacerbated pre-existing challenges for women which include:

(1) women entrepreneurs are facing financial challenges where the lack of information to access opportunities and the design and delivery of financial support has not been suitable;
(2) they are struggling to juggle family life and their businesses; and
(3) women entrepreneurs are feeling discriminated against and delegitimised in their roles by enterprise agencies providing business support and advice.

The opportunities that have arisen from the current environment involve:
(4) major commitments from the women entrepreneurs are being made to communities regardless of the fragile situation of their own businesses;
(5) one-sided pro bono work is being undertaken to maintain relationships, to build future collaborations and to ensure reputations of their businesses are protected; and
(6) women entrepreneurs have been upskilling.

Some of the challenges that women entrepreneurs are facing during the pandemic are not new, these challenges have historically existed but have been amplified by the crisis. The evidence gathered indicates that a transparent and relevant structure of support, specific to women’s enterprise, could be a useful tool in tackling the impact of the pandemic. Furthermore, the opportunities highlighted allows us to inform and influence women’s enterprise policies in Scotland.

A more detailed blog on the study undertaken can be found here. 

Interface has supported many women during the last year as they have adapted their businesses to meet the challenges of COVID-19. You can read more here in our case studies. If you have a challenge which Interface could help with please contact us.