Unlike previous economic downturns, the pandemic impacted women in the workforce more than their male counterparts. Industry sectors with higher concentrations of female employees – like retail and hospitality – were hit hard. In addition, women shouldered more of the caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic, which for many, forced difficult choices between work and family.1 The result was a “she-cession” that saw nearly 1.8 million women leave the workforce between February 2020 and August 2021.2
Amid the bleak stats, there are positive signs for the future. With an increased focus on flexibility and well-being, female small business owners are leading the conversation about how work can work better for women – and men.
Women-owned businesses drive economic growth
Before the pandemic, female-owned businesses were growing twice as fast as the nationwide average, with women owning 42 percent of all companies in the U.S., employing 9.4 million workers, and generating nearly $2 trillion in revenue as of 2019.3 Female entrepreneurs didn’t let up during the pandemic. In 2020, with applications for new U.S. businesses the highest since 2007, women were two times more likely to start a business compared to men.4
Behind the numbers:
- More women than men report starting a business “out of necessity.”5 For women, necessity can be driven by underemployment as well as the need for increased flexibility and control over when and where they work.
- Women-owned businesses are a good investment. A Boston Consulting Group study determined that companies founded by women generated 10 percent more in cumulative revenue over a five-year period compared to startups founded by men.6
- Success is about more than the bottom line. Female business owners are more likely to start a business that prioritizes social or environmental good along with business success.7
Looking ahead: The role for resiliency and well-being
Even with the momentum behind female-owned businesses, women business leaders are less optimistic than men when it comes to the impact of the pandemic on their business. While the MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index shows small business owners are increasingly cautious as the pandemic stretches on,8 a special report by the Chamber found that women business owners were less likely to forecast revenue growth for their business or have plans to add staff in the coming year.9
With the relatively recent past as a guide, entrepreneurial resiliency will play a pivotal role in how small businesses and the overall economy recover from the pandemic. Following the Great Recession of 2008, women and minority-owned businesses were a fundamental part of the economic recovery, creating more than 1.8 million jobs between 2007 and 2012.10
Today, MetLife’s Employee Benefits Trends Study shows that small business owners recognize the importance of resiliency in the months ahead, with three in four saying employee resilience will be important to business recovery.11 And almost half (45%) of female small business leaders, compared to 39 percent of their male counterparts, see resilience as one of the most important employee traits needed as their organization recovers in the months ahead.11
Overall well-being is the foundation of resiliency – and the workplace of the future. Nearly seven in ten (68%) of small business owners predict holistic employee well-being, recognizing both work and life, will have a major impact on the workplace of the future.11 However, small business employees are feeling the stress of the pandemic across all aspects of well-being – financial, physical, mental, and social.
Female business leaders are uniquely suited to helping employees – and their companies – balance overall well-being and navigate the changing work landscape. Research shows women score higher in the soft skills that will be required to transform the workforce, including emotional intelligence, empathy, adaptability, and teamwork.12 According to MetLife’s Employee Benefit Trends Study, female small business owners are more likely to recognize when employees are stressed, tired, or burned out. In addition, female small business owners cite meeting the needs of employees across all life stages and the diversity spectrum (65%) and increasing employee mental well-being (69%) as important employee benefit objectives, compared to 59 percent and 65 percent of male small business employers respectively.11
As they combine economic impact with heightened awareness of employee needs, female small business leaders are well-positioned to lead the conversations that will redefine work-life balance and provide the flexibility, benefits, and support employees – both women and men – need in a post-pandemic workplace.
For more insights and practical guidance on how small businesses can adapt to evolving workforce trends and employee expectations, download our latest Employee Benefit Trends Study.