Business Opinion

For women entrepreneurs, the pandemic is hurting business—and their mental health

Women Entrepreneurs

November 19th marks Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, and this year, more than ever, women entrepreneurs need our collective support. Eight months into the pandemic, COVID-19 has affected every Canadian, but its impact has not been evenly distributed. Certain groups are facing outsized challenges—and those include women entrepreneurs. They face more hurdles securing financial support, tend to operate businesses in the industries hardest hit by COVID, and are more likely to bear the now-heavier burden of childcare, home-schooling and other domestic responsibilities. 

This is having a significant impact on their productivity, stress levels and their health. They find themselves in the middle of a perfect storm: dealing with the same challenges that faced them before the pandemic, while trying to navigate their businesses through an uncertain economic future that has rattled the entire entrepreneurial sector.

It is taking a toll. Last week, BDC released new research on the mental health of entrepreneurs that shows the pandemic is having a particularly alarming impact on women entrepreneurs. The report revealed that while nearly two-thirds of entrepreneurs say they are adjusting to the COVID-19 context (64%), two in five business owners are feeling depressed at least once a week (39%). It also found women entrepreneurs were significantly more likely to feel depressed (51%) than men entrepreneurs (35%) and were more likely to say that mental health challenges interfered with their ability to work (40%) compared to the national average. Those numbers are even higher among business owners who have not fully resumed business activities—a group where women are overrepresented. 

These are startling findings, but they are not surprising. Women-owned businesses tend to be smaller than male-owned firms. They are more likely to operate in the services and retail industries than in manufacturing and tech, and they are twice as likely to run self-employed businesses. All those characteristics present additional challenges to women on the road to recovery.  

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The good news is that more resources are available to help all the time, as more organizations, not-for-profits and governments recognize the problem. At BDC, we have made a commitment to support the mental health and well-being of entrepreneurs, including women, in addition to the health of their businesses. The Mental Health and Well-Being Report is one part of that commitment, and BDC has brought together an advisory group of health experts to review and contextualize the results, identify issues and provide tangible advice going forward. 

According to our survey, women entrepreneurs are more likely than men to have accessed resources to help them deal with stress. That’s an encouraging sign, but more needs to be done. For themselves, women need to watch for the warning signs of mental health concerns—for instance, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, increased alcohol consumption, reduced sociability or withdrawal from daily functions at work, at home or in relationships. We would also encourage them to find support and advice when they need it.

But women entrepreneurs cannot do it on their own, and helping them through these unusual and difficult times is a task every Canadian can take part in. We can buy their products and services because cash flow is a major concern for them right now. We can leverage our social media to promote their businesses to friends and associates. Finally—and perhaps most importantly—we can offer a sympathetic ear or a helping hand. Small actions that can make a big difference.

Helping these hardworking, innovative businesspeople through the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. Study after study has shown that gender diversity and good business go hand in hand. That makes women entrepreneurs a vital part of Canada’s social and economic fabric – and support for their mental health a vital task, not just on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, but as part of an ongoing commitment to a prosperous future for all Canadians.

About the Author: Laura Didyk is the Vice President and National Lead for Women Entrepreneurs at BDC.