Women standing in a circle with hands in the air

Women are Building Back Better, Together

Early in the pandemic, I caught up with a long-time friend and peer in social entrepreneurship. Like so many business owners, she was lying awake at night wondering how such a precipitous drop in sales was even possible, and whether her company might never recover.

“Ten years of grinding and holding to our values, grinding and holding to our values, to finally get to a point where we were growing, keeping a decent profit, and doing some real good in our community,” she lamented. Her heartbreak was unstated, but I could hear a wave of tears just lapping at the edge of her voice. “And it’s all undone in 60 fucking days.”

The dramatic downturn in her business is far from unique, but studies are already showing that the economic impacts of COVID-19 are being disproportionately borne by women. 

An abrupt halt to 50 years of progress?

Between 1972 and 2019, the portion of women-owned businesses in the United States grew from a paltry 4.6% to 42%. Not quite parity, and a long five decades, but progress nonetheless.  According to 2018 research commissioned by American Express, women are more likely “to see a need in the market and to start a company to fill it.” That particular category of enterprise—’Opportunity Enterprises’—tends “to have a higher rate of survival and better growth prospects.” In short, they’re better businesses.

Be careful not to let the statistics hide deeper, systemic challenges, though: ‘Necessity entrepreneurs’ are forced to start their businesses by circumstance. Perhaps they’re unemployed or underemployed. This is the kind of entrepreneurship that declines in good economic times. And ‘flexibility entrepreneurs’ start businesses because “workforce policies don’t accommodate their caregiving responsibilities or they desire more control over when and where they work.” Both of these types of entrepreneurs are more likely to return to full time employment when economic conditions improve. In short, they’re more fragile businesses.

According to research shared by Wendy Cukler, a Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, “During the pandemic… women-owned business laid off a disproportionately higher percentage of their workers—62% laid off 80% of their employees, which is much higher than the 45% observed for most businesses.” She goes on to say that while women are majority owners of 15.6% of SMEs (small to medium enterprises), “they account for 38 per cent of self-employed Canadians.” In short, women-owned businesses are significantly more adversely affected.

How tough is this pandemic on women? Laurel Dault, the Social Innovation Manager at Hollyhock, and one of the producers of the annual Social Venture Institute – Women conference, shared this:


“The United Nations and McKinsey have reported that COVID-19 is having a regressive effect on gender equality. While everyone is facing challenges due to the pandemic, women are bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout. For countless women, the burden of unpaid care and domestic work has exploded, along with job loss at a rate that is 1.8 times that of men.”


Social Venture Institute – Women

Social Venture Institute – Women is designed for the founders, CEOs, and leaders of established mission-led businesses and non-profit social enterprises, as well as leaders of emerging enterprises, social change makers, artistic and others that are using business as a force for social impact.

The conference welcomes all women (cis and trans) as well as non-binary people who are comfortable in a space that centers the experience of women.

“We truly are in this together.” — Pam Chaloult

Long-time SVI Producer Pam Chaloult, herself the entrepreneurial Founder of Practical Feet, shared that SVI – Women “fuels her passion and purpose to cultivate brave and sacred spaces for women identified entrepreneurs to share their vulnerability, wisdom, and truth.” This year, “the desire to gather is palpable.”

Her colleague, creative entrepreneur Vanessa Richards, knows “SVI – Women creates a space to learn together how to make the world work better with your own sweat, guts, and grace.”

For over 25 years, Social Venture Institutes have convened groups of entrepreneurs annually for respite and support, learning and skill-building, networking and peer mentorship. This April, SVI – Women will convene in partnership with Hollyhock, broadening its base of participants—and doubling the number of participants.

A circle of women entrepreneurs deep in discussion

An SVI Women circle, a deep discussion ensues at a previous event

Scheduled over 2.5 days, April 28 – 30, SVI – Women is a highly interactive and experiential learning experience that will take place online. You can expect group learning together, as well as many breakouts in pairs and small groups to elevate your learning and deepen connection.

Personal and intimate “True Confession” speakers tell the truth about the instrumental learning moments on the challenges and successes of building a socially conscious business. Intimate, confidential, Live Case Studies dive deep on relevant and current business challenges, and offer universal learning for all participants. Interactive, skill-building workshops will cover business strategy and marketing, personal leadership, justice, equity, and inclusion training, and more. And the networking is unparalleled, supportive and enduring: After the convening, you’ll join the highly engaged SVI alumni community, where you can expand your network, share your game-changing ideas, make “asks and offers,” and meet up throughout the year.

Laurel Dault puts her determination pretty succinctly: “We are taking action to support women entrepreneurs at this crucial moment.”

We encourage you to join them at SVI Women this April.

Mike Rowlands is President & CEO at Junxion, and a producer of Social Venture Institute.

Social Venture Institute – Women is scheduled for April 28 – 30, 2021. Learn more here and apply to attend here. And save 10% with code SVIWfriends.

Stay connected with SVI – Women via Facebook | Instagram | Twitter and follow the conversation using #WomenSupportingWomen

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