With COVID-19 continuing to ravage many female-dominated industries, women are deciding now is the time to pour their extra time into their passion projects and turning the dream of running their own business into a reality. But, if you’re one of the countless female entrepreneurs that also has children at home now, the days may feel like an obstacle course regardless of how early you get up, or how late you burn the midnight oil.

According to the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH), the average woman spends 27.3 hours per week on domestic chores – unless you have a toddler, then you can probably double that number. According to the Government of Canada, prior to COVID, only 16 per cent of small- and medium-sized businesses across Canada were run by women. Now, several months into the global pandemic, Canadian women make up a whopping 50 per cent of business start-ups, and 37.2% of self-employed Canadians are women. The pandemic has forced the closure of most childcare facilities for the foreseeable future, and if you’re an entrepreneur and a mother, running a business with children around 24/7 has become a challenge like none other. So, how are female-owned business owners making time for their businesses? Strategically.

In the Shuswap, many small businesses were ravaged by two consecutive years of fires in the summers of 2017 and 2018, only to be hit with a global pandemic and subsequent lockdown in 2020. Female-led small businesses are feeling the pinch more now than ever before. Who knew that childcare would weigh-in as a key priority in a global pandemic?

A recent WEKH publication states that “women entrepreneurs are more likely to be assuming childcare, home schooling and domestic responsibilities than male entrepreneurs and this is having a significant impact on their productivity, stress levels and health. Before COVID, access to affordable child care was identified as a critical need, particularly for lower income women. During COVID virtually all women entrepreneurs, regardless of their socioeconomic status, are disadvantaged by the additional childcare and household burdens, as money cannot buy the support that they need.” Traditionally, domestic duties fall to the women in a male-female household, and while many households are moving away from assigning “pink and blue” tasks overall, this pandemic has proven that many homes still fall back on old habits when times are tough. These added responsibilities and stressors on women have the potential to negatively affect their productivity and, ultimately, career prospects.

Statistics Canada shows that women and women-owned businesses are disproportionately affected by the economic fallout of COVID, with 73 per cent of female-owned businesses experiencing a significant negative impact on the demand for their products and/or services. Pressures of childcare and the fact that many women-owned businesses are more likely to be self-financed also contribute to increasing pressures on these entrepreneurs. Many female entrepreneurs who do not qualify for financial aid, or don’t want to take on additional debt, are turning to their own finances and are now feeling the pinch both personally and professionally. The impenetrable wall between personal and professional that many had erected pre-pandemic was hit with a wrecking ball labeled ‘COVID’.

In many cases, women require childcare in order to fully return to work, whether that’s from home, or in an office or retail location. In order to stage a full economic recovery in British Columbia and Canada, female entrepreneurs rely heavily on childcare that is either currently unavailable or unaffordable due to financial constraints caused by COVID. Some female entrepreneurs are experiencing unique challenges as a result of the pandemic, with many either not qualifying for financial support under the existing relief programs or struggling to understand the new requirements for whether or not they do qualify.

In interviewing local female entrepreneurs for this piece, we found that the majority of mothers with children under the age of 12 who have a business between two and five years old are feeling as though they currently accomplish less than 20 per cent of what they did prior to the impacts if COVID-19, and feel as if they are failing in many areas of their lives, not just on the business front. Local businesses that have reported an increase in business have also stated that due to the lack of childcare, the burden of trying to ‘keep up’ professionally is taking an overall toll on them. Compounding these issues is the inability to gage how long the pandemic will rage for, and what the long-term effects will be for many of these small businesses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reiterated how interconnected our world really is – and that everyone will be affected by it until no one is affected. We encourage everyone to please be kind, courteous and lift those up around you; we all need it now more than ever before.

If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or uncertain about any aspect of your business, or the effects of COVID-19 on your homelife or business, please reach out to Tsuts’weye’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Caroline Grover at shuswapmentor@gmail.com.