This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is “Choose to challenge”. While the call to action is specifically dedicated to challenging gender bias, we also considered the immense challenge that many have faced; surviving and thriving during a pandemic.
The COVID pandemic has caused a global economic recession. Businesses have struggled, and with government advice causing the goalposts to shift constantly, it’s hard for them to know where to stand. We found that, unlike previous recessions, the pandemic has disproportionately affected women. In fact, the International Monetary Fund has warned that COVID risks damaging the last 30 years of economic progress for women.
According to WIRED, due to the pandemic, women “were 47 per cent more likely [than men] to have lost or quit their job”. This is a staggering figure and one that highlights the inequality that remains for women in the workplace. Coupled with the fact that they have “shouldered more childcare responsibilities and household work than men”, there’s a strong case for why this year’s theme of ‘Choose to Challenge’ is needed more than ever.
Yet it’s not all bad news. All over the world, women have pulled through and against the odds, have founded and run businesses that have seen huge growth and success. In fact, female-owned businesses contribute £105bn to the UK each year. Women have “reinvented themselves” and placed focus on qualities like creativity, resilience and determination in order to succeed.
Post-pandemic, it’s also likely that start-ups founded by women will be overwhelmingly purpose-led. Research has found that women are more likely to want to do something to help today’s issues and do something that makes a difference to society. Not only that, progress around gender and race is being made at the same time within entrepreneurship. Before the pandemic, in 2019, women of colour accounted for 89% of all businesses started by women in the United States.
So what are we doing to mark the theme of “Choose to Challenge” this International Women’s Day? We’re featuring three brands founded and run by female entrepreneurs. Of course, it can be easy to get lost in the blur of stats and data - but hearing about these women’s hopes, challenges and experiences with their business first-hand gives us a more human look into the world of running a business during a pandemic.
The Good News Baker is a baked goods business founded by Warsan Abdi (her name means Good News in Somali!) She founded her business in May 2020, during the first lockdown in the UK. “I found that there was a real opportunity to deliver some good news through the post and allow me to use baking as a therapeutic way of relieving some of my own stress in lockdown.”
Running a baking business hasn’t come without its challenges, however. Her biggest challenge as an entrepreneur during the pandemic has been the high levels and different aspects of uncertainty. “Suppliers often are unable to keep to delivery dates and supply chains have been really strained over the past year… GNB has had to react quickly, plan for the long term and often pay premiums to get basic supplies”.
As a female entrepreneur, Warsan believes that women are being seen as a positive force in business and there is opportunity for continued growth. Yet at times, especially in “medium to large-sized businesses, women are underestimated”. This narrative needs to change, and Warsan believes it’s something we can all do collectively.
Want to get your hands on some gorgeous brownies? You can find the Good News Baker on Instagram!
Emma and Cathy met 5 years ago as “two bleary-eyed mums in the local park, pushing our kids on the swings” After discovering they had a similar career path in live events, film and costume, they immediately hit it off. The COVID-19 pandemic rendered them horrified about the scale of clothing waste throughout the world, and so they decided they wanted to create a company “that promoted slow fashion, sustainability and a way to achieve elements of circular living.” The Artful Menders was born!
The pandemic actually allowed The Artful Menders to come to fruition. People’s clothes shopping habits changed by force, and people started to turn to their existing wardrobes for different things to wear. “We hope that by showing [people] ways to repair or revamp these clothes, we can save them from landfill and discourage more new clothing being bought.” For Emma and Cathy, this feels like it should be a crux point in the shopping habits of the nation.
And, as female entrepreneurs, they’re very much on the same page. “We understand each other’s perspective and are driven by similar issues… We are inspired by other women-led businesses and see this as a perfect time to build each other up and celebrate each other's successes.”
Check out The Artful Menders on Instagram!
Mely Avila started her business, M.A, 4 years ago. M.A combines Mely's artistic and creative practice with crafts, traditions and artisanal processes of Mexico.
While the pandemic has created challenges for Mely's business, such as learning how to continue operating at a distance, it has also provided a chance for them to slow down. "The pandemic helped us a lot to rethink ourselves, to see other scenarios, slow down and restructure things, both personally and collectively."
The role of the community has been integral in M.A's success. Not only is M.A a collaborative project that is dedicated to providing job opportunities, inclusion and community work, it's also a fantastic example of the growth in opportunities for female entrepreneurs. Mely says that what she enjoys about being a woman (especially as an entrepreneur) "... is that we are very intuitive, I feel that this [allows us to] find our own way to flow and build our businesses..."
Discover more about M.A here!