DC Women’s Business Center surveyed 274 small business owners in the D.C. metro area to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn affected their businesses.
Women-owned small businesses in the Washington, D.C., region have been hampered by the same barriers that women-owned businesses face nationally: a lack of access to traditional business capital, networks and opportunities, and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues, a new report published by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) found.
The report, based on a survey of 274 DC Women’s Business Center (DCWBC) clients and clients of partner organizations during February and early March 2021, provides a unique window into different needs and experiences of women business owners in the D.C. metro region during the pandemic.
DCWBC is a program of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC).
“The devastating effects of the pandemic on small business have been disproportionately felt by women-owned firms, especially those owned by Black women and Latinas,” said NCRC Chief of Community Finance and Mobility Marisa Calderon. “The DCWBC’s efforts in quantifying this impact helped inform our approach in determining tools and resources needed for women-owned firms to rebound.”
Overwhelmingly, respondents (77%) reported that they had unmet funding needs of $5,000 or more. And yet, only 41% received federal relief funds from the Small Business Administration (SBA) during the pandemic, while 42% did not seek any aid from any source.
It is well documented that women-owned businesses have less access to traditional business capital and face unique challenges in starting and growing their business ventures.
“The study underscored those same disparities among women and in particular, women of color, during this global health and economic crisis,” said DCWBC Project Director Heidi Sheppard. “It makes us value the work we do at DCWBC to help these talented and hardworking entrepreneurs achieve their small business dreams.”
Lack of capital wasn’t the only negative impact these business owners faced. Other businesses faced challenges in marketing the need for their services during the pandemic, expanding digital outreach and diversifying revenue streams. Entrepreneurs who are also mothers had to navigate the pandemic by doing two full-time jobs at once.
“Because we are women owners and mothers, we have struggled to have the time to push the business to its fullest potential without schools/daycares open and because access to financing to support the potential growth is time-consuming,” a woman business owner in the healthcare industry noted.
There were also some business owners who reported increased business and revenue during the pandemic. These women navigated the pandemic by offering virtual services or new products and services, while others made long-term changes to the way they operated and managed their employees virtually.
“Our mission changed,” said Zina White, owner of Choice Driven Ministry, a nonprofit organization in La Plata, Maryland. “We streamlined operations, eliminated outreach in communities but increased focus on youth shelter for abused, homeless, and/or post-trafficked school-age girls. We are now committing 100% of our resources towards the care and management of the shelter and its residents.”
Overall, women-owned businesses demonstrated resilience despite the barriers that would seem to restrict their success. Access to a network of community, business support providers and other joint initiatives helped, but more funding support is needed. Supporting business growth for women entrepreneurs increases economic growth within their households and for the local economy.