How Women-Owned Businesses May Find an Advantage Through the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a light on the strengths and weaknesses of governments and businesses alike across the world. While men have traditionally been tapped for leadership roles, many female shining stars have emerged. Despite having a different style, here's how having women leaders has benefited everyone.
Most businesses owners today have, no doubt, seen several articles and increasingly frequent ad campaigns from various sources aimed at helping business to pivot in this time of uncertainty. As the coronavirus pandemic draws on and national and world events cast a seemingly increasing pall of uncertainty over the global economic landscape, many are examining their businesses in a deeper way and searching out new strategies. Some are developing new hard skills and offerings, while others discover how to highlight previously undervalued skills.
The Curious Case of Women-Owned Businesses
A study recently released by the US Chamber Of Commerce has found that women owned businesses are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Based on a survey of business owners, the findings of which were published in July, 62 percent of male-owned businesses said their companies were doing well, compared to just 47 percent of female-owned businesses. The 500 business owners were also asked about plans for investment, hiring and growth over the next year. Men consistently responded with a more confident outlook. In her article for Fortune, Emma Hinchliffe astutely observed that the study demonstrated “…(a) relative optimism (which) seems to allow male business owners to look toward the future of their companies.”
There are several other articles echoing the finding of the study, taking the angle that the pandemic has affected women-owned businesses disproportionately. Yet, I find myself asking whether this conclusion is necessarily merited based on the results of the study. When I consider it alongside other stories unfolding at the same time – such as the recent Forbes article highlighting how the best responses to the coronavirus pandemic have come from countries led by women – I wonder whether the reductive optimism = growth = good business reasoning that the study relies on hold water in today’s environment. Couldn’t we view the current pessimism of women small business owners as an element of relative strength?
The Valuation of Soft Skills
If you have ever applied for a job, written a resume or reviewed a rCV, you are probably familiar with the concept of "soft skills." These are skills that, in addition to technical or “hard” skills, are historically used to sell oneself as a desirable member of a workplace. Things like communication skills, critical thinking, a proactive approach and trustworthiness may come to mind. Where these are qualities that have traditionally made someone a desirable employee, they have not necessarily been at the forefront of desirable qualities for a business owner. In fact the optimistic, forward-looking, heroic stance hinted to in the Chamber of Commerce study has figured strongly into out cultural perception of what creates a successful business owner. The coronavirus pandemic, however, seems to have shifted, and continues to shift, that cultural perception in many ways.
In the world of accounting, a profession guided by data and generally accepted methods, most of us think regularly about hard skills. We examine whether we can trust the numbers provided by examining how they were arrived at. Clientele have traditionally been attracted by knowledge and expertise and come to us looking specifically for hard skills. While most of us have spent a good deal of the pandemic sharpening and building hard skills – for example, rules and procedures for applying for relief funding from the SBA – we have no doubt noticed the necessity of building soft skills as well. If you work with small businesses, every service provider, from payroll to HR to social media marketing strategists, has released a communique, if not an entire handbook, of how to communicate with customers now. We are all now reliably certain that every business-related website we visit will display some version of a COVID-19 resources hub and some form of solidarity statement - we are all in this together, we’re here to help, etc. – prominently on their landing page. In small business networking groups, among masterminds and at conferences, I am hearing similar conversations happen time and time again. How can we market sensitively in this economy?
Strength in Sensitivity
The phrase from the Fortune article kept repeating in my head “…(a) relative optimism (which) seems to allow male business owners to look toward the future of their companies.” It bothered me that forecasting for sustained or curtailed growth for women business owners had, by omission, been compared to a lack of ability to look toward the future. If we look at some of things that have made female leadership so much more successful in terms of combatting the virus, one of the things we can see almost immediately is an ability to take a swift and accurate assessment of the situation and communicate in an honest and forthright way. Taken in this light, we can take another look at the particular way the soft skills of these female leaders have brought their countries to a stronger place.
In Germany, Angela Merkel told her country early on that they should take the virus very seriously and that 58 million members of the population could become infected. Because of her ability face the worst-case scenario and clearly communicate, she inspired trust and compliance in the population. To date, Germany has had one of the best results – only 271,000 cases – in the whole of Europe and the developed world. This result turns the idea that a pessimistic forecast yields a pessimistic return on its head a bit.
To date, Taiwan has only 507 cases. Total. This is credited in no small part to Tsai Ing-wen, who swiftly introduced 124 measures to block the spread of the virus. Amazingly, these have effectively curtailed the virus without a lockdown. Even so, they did simulate a scenario in which they might have to in order to make sure their government agencies were coordinated, agile and prepared.
Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland quickly introduced free universal testing to the population of Iceland. As a result, Iceland will provide crucial data to the global analysis about the true rate of spread and fatality of the virus. In Finland, Sanna Marin engaged social media influencers to share up-to-date scientific information about preventing the spread.
Bring into your mind the first male head of state you can think of. Now try to imagine him holding a press conference to tell all the children of that nation it’s OK to feel scared. That is exactly what Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg did.
As the female owner of a small consulting firm, I am used to marketing my knowledge of regulations, software and procedures. I create systems and deliver results. Yet, I have spent countless hours in the study of a success mindset, how humans neurologically store data, and how long-held, limiting beliefs may be dissolved. All of this knowledge benefits my clients. And I’m starting to talk about it because people need help seeing beyond what is happening now. I currently work with a business strategist who has a background in sports therapy and energy work. Strategy sessions are filled with practical tips but also a lot of energetic work to assist with what I have come to understand as an expansive mindset. I recently attended a business goal setting and strategy training during which, in addition to writing timelines and breaking down goals into subsets of achievable actions, everyone in attendance also had their chakras aligned and stood in a giant Tibetan singing bowl which was gonged while they visualized their goals. All were led by women.
Perhaps we can look to out female world leaders and take inspiration as business leaders. Where our often-holistic approach to business has in the past been unacknowledged or even scorned as impossibly woowoo, we are learning every day that sensitivity and a helping hand are more and more precisely what everyone seems to be seeking in a trusted business advisor. The fact is, now a substantial body of research shows that women are just as capable of excelling at leadership as men, if not more so. Yet, women are still asked so many times to fit into and be judged the rules of stereotypical male leadership in business and globally. My hope is that we are seeing the dawn of an age where female leadership is seen as a given and the varying styles and perspectives of female leaders are sought out for their wisdom and value.
It’s about time.
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Laine Proctor lives and works in sunny Los Angeles, California. Her firm The QuickBooks Doctor provides businesses with virtual CFO services, full service bookkeeping, software troubleshooting and training. She is also a certified trainer of Neuro Linguistics programming and Timeline Therapy. She is a published author and success trainer and,...