Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Wake of the COVID-19 Crisis

International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship

Lene Foss & Colette Henry

The Covid-19 pandemic is a global crisis. The cumulative Covid-19 death toll has just surpassed 3 million and is accelerating (WHO, 2021). The empirical backdrop of the pandemic falls within ‘extreme context’ research which investigates risky, emergent and disrupted contexts (Hällgren et. al., 2018). A  crisis refers to “a rare, significant and public situation that creates highly undesirable outcomes for the firm and its stakeholders … and requires immediate corrective action by firm leaders” (Bundy et al., 2017, James et al., Wooten & Dushek, 2011). A crisis includes three essential elements: ambiguity, high stakes and perceived urgency, and is defined by the interaction between a specific event (e.g. Covid-19) and an organisational context. Covid-19 is a new and ongoing “specific event” with an uncertain time frame (He and Harris, 2020).

The self-employed and small and medium enterprises are at the center of the current crisis. More than 50% of SMEs have already lost significant revenue and risk being out of business in less than three months (OECD, 2020). Compared to the financial crisis in 2008-2009, the Covid-19 epidemic appears to have a faster impact on businesses, possibly due to the severe restrictions placed on commercial and personal activities (OECD, 2020). As there is some evidence that women operate with lower levels of capitalisation and are more reliant on self-financing, women-owned businesses may be at greater risk of closing during extended periods, with substantially reduced or no revenue (OECD/European Union, 2019). Furthermore, women experience significant challenges due to balancing work with increased household responsibilities, including childcare due to school closures. Across the OECD countries, women are also spending two hours more than men per day on unpaid work at home (OECD, Gender Data Portal). Furthermore, one quarter of self-employed women have employees (OECD, 2019); accordingly, a significant number of business exits and substantial job losses can be expected.

This Special Issue aimed to attract contributions highlighting the various geographical, political and institutional contexts in which women entrepreneurs operated during the Covid-19 pandemic, and to shed light on the challenges these contexts presented. One of our objectives was to initiate a new strand of research by applying the general crisis literature (Hällgren et al., 2018) to women’s entrepreneurship, and in doing so, to help identity a future research agenda. We believed this focus would accentuate the need to develop strategies and policies that facilitate and strengthen women’s entrepreneurial capability, as well as their ability to innovate in times of crisis.

The following three questions guided the theme of the Special Issue:

  1. What are the main challenges women entrepreneurs have been (and are) experiencing during the Covid-19 pandemic?
  2. What specific strategies are women entrepreneurs employing to minimise the negative consequences of the crisis?
  3. How can women entrepreneurs adjust their business to their family situation during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Five papers comprise this Special Issue collection, collectively presenting empirical evidence of women’s entrepreneurship during the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland, Brazil, India and Pakistan. The papers include evidence from the Americas and South-East Asia, regions which have been hardest hit by the epidemic and which have the largest reported increase in incident cases (WHO, 2021). These papers are freely available until the end of 2021.

Guest editorial by Lene Foss and Colette Henry

Female entrepreneurs in a time of crisis: evidence from Ireland by Simon Stephens, Isobel Cunningham and Yousra Kabir

Striving for balance: women entrepreneurs in Brazil, their multiple gendered roles and Covid-19 by Sukanya Ayatakshi-Endow and Jiselle Steele

A priority action roadmap for women's economic empowerment (PARWEE) amid COVID-19: a co-creation approach by Sandrine Bonin, Wafa Singh, Veena Suresh, Tarek Rashed, Kuiljeit Uppaal, Rajiv Nair and Rao R. Bhavani

Learning experiences of women entrepreneurs amidst COVID-19 by Gul Afshan, Subhan Shahid and Muhammad Nawaz Tunio

Exploring the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on women entrepreneurs in Pakistan by Faisal Mustafa, Ambreen Khursheed, Maham Fatima and Marriam Rao