Early Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Canada

In Canada and around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed an unprecedented shock to small business owners and entrepreneurs. Significant attention and concern have focused on the impact of the pandemic on women entrepreneurs in particular, for several reasons. First, women-led businesses are typically smaller and younger than firms led by men (on average), with less capitalization and other resources to see them through economic shocks and downturns. Second, women-led businesses are heavily concentrated in sectors of the economy (e.g., personal services, retail stores, restaurants) that have been most affected by lockdowns, social distancing, and other pandemic-related public health measures—all of which has hampered normal business operations and the ability to generate sufficient revenues and profit. Finally, many women entrepreneurs—like women in regular wage-and-salary employment—have been juggling paid work, family caregiving, and home schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this, the closures of schools and childcare centres has severely limited the time, energy, and attention they have available for their businesses. Together, these factors have sparked important questions about the experiences of women entrepreneurs in Canada during this unprecedented and uniquely challenging period.

This report provides some of the first representative empirical information about the early impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women business owners in Canada. It draws on the 2020 GEM Canada survey, which compiled data from July 2020. It offers insights from a representative sample of 2,910 individuals in Canada, including women and men engaged in early-stage firms (up to 3.5 years old) and established businesses (more than 3.5 years old). It also includes individuals in Canada not involved in entrepreneurship, but who were asked about their attitudes and perceptions towards starting and running a business. In addition to standard GEM Canada questions that allow year-to-year comparisons (e.g., activity rates, attitudes, business discontinuance), the 2020 GEM Canada survey also included special questions focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. These questions attempted to gauge the early impacts of the pandemic on business operations, capturing challenges and new opportunities identified by entrepreneurs. Drawing on the standard and special GEM Canada questions, this report traces changes in activity rates, business closures, attitudes, growth expectations, challenges, and opportunities for women involved in either early-stage business or more established firms in Canada. It also assesses the changing attitudes towards entrepreneurship in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.

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