Written by Diandra Ko
Nov. 19 was Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, raising awareness of the contributions of female entrepreneurs and why it’s critical to support the growth of their businesses.
Since the onset of the pandemic, women business owners have driven record levels of small business creation with over $1 trillion in sales. Last year alone, women created half of all new small businesses, compared with one-quarter of startups in year’s past.
As a female small business banking manager here in Fresno, I am proud to say that Bank of America recognizes the importance of this business segment with approximately 40% of all its small business clients being women, outpacing the national average. It’s also why we continue to support local programs aiding women-led startups, like the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation’s “Womanpreneur” program and its Spanish-language “Latinapreneur” program that help women launch and expand their small businesses by building entrepreneurial capacity in the areas of marketing, financial literacy, and other business development fundamentals.
This momentum by women entrepreneurs remains strong. Bank of America’s 2021 Women Business Owner Spotlight shows women business owners have an optimistic business and economic growth outlook with 61% expecting their revenue to increase over the next year, while hiring expectations have also increased since last fall.
But the pandemic certainly created unique challenges for female entrepreneurs. Nationwide, women have been leaving the workplace over the past year in a pandemic-accelerated exodus that reflects ongoing pay inequality and caregiving expectations that clash with today’s hybrid work environment. In September 2021 alone, more women left the workforce than the U.S. economy added jobs. Before the pandemic, women comprised over 50% of America’s workforce, underscoring their importance and vital contributions to the U.S. economy. When women have access to the tools, resources and capital they need to operate, our economy and community grows and thrives.
Finding a work-life balance is difficult for female business owners even in non-pandemic times. They wear so many hats within their businesses and of course at home. This year hammered home the importance of finding opportunities to take a break and unplug from the daily stress of running a business, from prioritizing time with family and friends, adopting healthy lifestyle habits or unplugging from the news.
Our data revealed women entrepreneurs are acknowledging the impact of pandemic-related stressors on their mental health, and in turn are protecting their employees’ health and wellness. Half of women business owners took steps to counteract employee burnout by changing, or planning to change, their approach to employee wellness and benefits because of the pandemic, including allowing a more flexible schedule or remote work and offering more paid time off or sick days. Additionally, 48% of women business owners even cut their own pay to keep employees on staff during the pandemic.
Of course, capital continues to be a factor for female entrepreneurs. From our extensive work with female business owners, we know one of their biggest challenges is identifying sources of funding, particularly amidst the pandemic. More than 40% have never applied for a business loan or line of credit, nearly 60% say they do not have the same access to capital as their male counterparts, and nearly a quarter believe women will never have equal access to capital.
To help female entrepreneurs navigate the capital landscape, Bank of America recently partnered with Seneca Women to launch the Bank of America Access to Capital Directory. The comprehensive, searchable database allows women seeking capital to sort potential funding by type — including seed, Series A or late-stage equity, as well as grants and debt capital — depending on their business stage and needs. This first-of-its kind platform is the only place where women entrepreneurs can find this vital, aggregated content.
With women-owned businesses representing over a third of total small businesses in the U.S., investing in their success has never been more important. Women entrepreneurs are fundamental to driving strong, healthy economies, and to create opportunities for these entrepreneurs to thrive and lead, it’s critical to understand their priorities, everyday realities and challenges.
As women entrepreneurs accelerate the growth of their businesses and revitalize our local economy, Bank of America remains committed to their success all year long.
Diandra Ko is Vice President, Small Business Banking, Bank of America Fresno-Visalia