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One in four small firms owned by women yet to reopen

1 September 2020

Women business owners could be making greater sacrifices than their male counterparts this year as they contend with specific challenges from the pandemic, according to a new survey of small business owners.

The research, undertaken by business lender Iwoca, has found that 23% of female business owners are still not trading, compared to 14% of male business owners.

This could have wider implications for the UK economy as, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, women-led SMEs are estimated to contribute around £85 billion to economic output.

Where their businesses have reopened, women are also less likely than men to report having returned to pre-COVID activity, with only 14% of women reporting that business is at normal levels compared with 21% of men.

When asked about specific sacrifices they have made for their business, almost half (48%) of all UK business owners reported going without a salary. However, female small business owners were more likely to have forgone a salary during the pandemic. Half of the women surveyed (50%) reported that they hadn’t taken a salary since the beginning of the lockdown, compared with 47% of men.

Looking ahead, female business owners are more likely to go without a salary over the next 12 months, with 42% saying they expect to go without wages compared with 38% of men. At the same time, 60% of female small business owners do not expect to take time off work in the next year, compared to 47% of male business owners. 

Samantha Guilfoyle, founder of S G Accountancy and a single mum with three children, said: "A lot of women - even subconsciously - feel that their role is to be a mum and the primary carer for their children. This isn't because this is forced upon them, but they're worried about being judged if they put their business first. This holds women back unnecessarily without them even realising they're being held back."

She added: "I've done an awful lot of free work for people I've worked with before. Unfortunately, there's been minimal invoice work, so whilst I've just been trying to do the best for the community, my income has taken a hit … I've worked more hours but invoiced a lot less."

One in two business owners (53%) said that not going on holiday with family, partners or children was the biggest sacrifice made during the crisis (53%). This was followed by having to use their own savings to finance the business (51%), and not paying themselves a salary for 48% of those polled.

Seema Desai, coo at Iwoca, said: "The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way business owners operate and many will be making sacrifices they have never had to consider before … Women-owned businesses make a huge contribution to the economy, so it is incumbent on everyone working within the small business community to ensure we're doing enough to support them."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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