COVID-19 could set 'a generation of women' back in business

Smiling female entrepreneur using laptop while talking through smart phone at home office
The findings make a compelling case for building on targeted gender-specific policy best practices internationally, the payments company argues. Photo: Getty Images

The fourth Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, which compares the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women across 58 economies, found that 87% said they had suffered a knock due to the coronavirus.

Over representation in sectors hardest hit by the economic downturn, the pronounced digital gender gap in an increasingly virtual world, and the mounting pressures of childcare responsibilities are only a few factors that have left women particularly vulnerable.

The findings make a compelling case for building on targeted gender-specific policy best practices internationally, the payments company argues.

Mastercard says that its top performing economy is a prime example of gender-specific support mechanisms having swift and significant results.

For the first time in the index’s history, Israel has topped the charts as best economy for women entrepreneurs worldwide, advancing from fourth place in 2019. Israel’s success has been driven by a focussed institutional backing for SMEs.

Similarly, Switzerland has advanced from 11th position in 2019, to third overall in 2020, spurred on by sharp improvement in government-led support for SMEs (up 37% from 2019) and a resulting uptick in cultural perceptions of entrepreneurialism (up 45% from 2019).

READ MORE: UK economy may not fully recover 'until 2023'

The UK ranks sixth of 58 economies demonstrating that women in United Kingdom are strongly placed, driven by their advancement in the academic, financial and corporate workplace as business leaders and professionals.

However, women’s vast potential to drive post-Covid economic bounce back is curbed by the still stark gender gap.

The impact of the pandemic and resultant economic downswing has been particularly punishing for women. Lower-paid, female, and young workers are 7 times more likely to work in sectors that have shuttered due to efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

The report presents an optimistic outlook for the future of women entrepreneurs. It indicates that the pandemic could prove a catalyst for exponential progress for women in business and an opportunity to course-correct inherent gender bias should decision makers gender-specific initiatives and support.

READ MORE: Despite progress FTSE 100 boardrooms still overwhelmingly male

Sue Kelsey, executive vice-president of global consumer products and financial inclusion at Mastercard, said: “A crisis will always reveal vulnerabilities in the system, and COVID-19 has done that in spades. We have seen the staggering extent of the disparity women in business face.

“But unlike any other economic downturn, COVID-19 has also paved the way for considerable progress and we have seen what we can be achieved when priority is given.”

Watch: Why can’t governments just print more money?