Saturday, December 5, 2020

This post was originally published on Forbes - Startups

Home Startups Women Make Strides In Business Ownership–And Find New Ways To Thrive–Despite Threats...

Women Make Strides In Business Ownership–And Find New Ways To Thrive–Despite Threats From Covid-19

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This post was originally published on Forbes - Startups

CEO of a woman-owned small business

Leaders of woman-owned small businesses offer insights for surviving and thriving through the … [+] pandemic. Pictured here, Laura Sanchez-Greenberg of Verde Associates; photo taken prior to the onset of Covid-19.

Photo provided by Verde Associates.

If you were born in the 1970s, when you came into the world only 4.6% of all businesses in the United States were owned by women. Fast-forward to today, and things have improved: women now own 42% of all U.S. businesses. Add in the businesses that are co-owned by women and men, and that percentage is almost up to the 50% mark.

But 2020 is the year that threatened it all. In July, 58% of small businesses were worried they might have to permanently close.

Seven months into the Covid-19 pandemic and in time to recognize National Women’s Small Business Month, we asked the leaders of women-owned small businesses what is helping them survive and thrive.

Relationships help you survive

“Everyone is struggling,” says Laura Sanchez-Greenberg, the founder of Verde Associates, a consulting firm that works with entrepreneurial enterprises and high growth companies. After a difficult spring watching many of her clients face tremendous challenges, Sanchez-Greenberg made an observation. Yes, the year is a dumpster fire. But some companies had more buckets of water on-hand to help.

“People who had large capacities, good relationships, strong connections, and general resilience are doing better at controlling the spread of the fire,” says Sanchez-Greenberg. Looking forward, the lesson she takes from this is that investing in people and relationships during good times gives you a stronger safety net during difficult times.

Crisis can lead to innovation

Consultants, woman-owned business

Sayer (left) and Dake (right) met through Benedictine University’s Ph.D. program in Values-Driven … [+] Leadership; now they’ve launched a consulting firm and are innovating to expand their offerings.

Photo provided by InterConneXion Consulting.

Allison Dake, Ph.D., and Nancy Sayer, Ph.D., were just beginning their new consulting practice, InterConneXions Consulting, when the pandemic hit. Lockdowns thwarted their plans to launch a partnership with Catharyn Baird and Jeannine Niacaris at EthicsGame, a woman-owned company focused on transforming ethics in education.

“The pandemic meant we couldn’t launch our new corporate program,” says Dake. But the pandemic also created other opportunities.

“Covid-19 increased the willingness of people to participate in web-mediated learning,” says Sayer. InterConneXion and EthicsGame are now moving their ethics work online. In January, they’ll launch a new learning platform, Your Ethical Center, an idea that might never have emerged if the restrictions of the pandemic hadn’t pointed them in this direction.

Partnerships extend the business

Consulting practice leaders

Bayard has extended her firm’s consulting practice by partnering with Rahim-Dillard, a diversity, … [+] equity, and inclusion expert.

Photos provided by the Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University and Equision Consulting.

The pandemic pushed change management consultant Aleen Bayard to move her work entirely online, finding that the executives she works with are incredibly adaptable. But it’s not just the pandemic that has changed her business. Over the summer, many of Bayard’s clients began to request help with building inclusive organizations.

“My experience in this arena is so limited,” says Bayard. “I needed to team up with a more qualified resource to do this topic justice.”

Her firm is now partnering with another woman-owned small business, Equision Consulting led by Dr. Salwa Rahim-Dillard, for topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. “The partnership extends my ability to help clients grapple with issues of racism and unconscious bias,” says Bayard.

Manage resources carefully

Construction CEO Gloria Shealey

Operational excellence can help a diverse, woman-owned business succeed, says CEO Gloria Shealey.

Photo provided by The Danielle Company/Ken A. Huth

Gloria Shealey leads the African American woman-owned commercial construction firm, The Danielle Company. Shealey’s firm is thriving, but she recognizes the challenge other woman-owned and diverse companies face in getting access to the capital and relationships that help sustain companies through hard times.

The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges, Shealey says. “What’s different today in this pandemic environment is that the viability of all small businesses, particularly diverse businesses, is intensely threatened by the economic and health impacts.” These impacts halted market capacity, permanently closed many businesses, and revealed once again the systemic inequities of racial, social, and economic injustice.

How do we counteract these challenges? Partnering with other diverse and woman-owned businesses is step one; Shealey sees signs of these partnerships growing across the nation.

Step two, Shealey says, is managing your own house well. “Our approach includes managing our internal resources more efficiently, leveraging our relationships, developing our talent, optimizing governmental assistance, elevating execution excellence for client value, and staying current on the changing dynamics of our industry, clients, and public policy.”

Stay Scrappy

CEO Patty Lindstrom

Staying scrappy has helped Lindstrom’s companies flourish through past challenges.

Photo provided by Patty Lindstrom.

After 26-years of being an entrepreneur, Patty Lindstrom is used to the ups and downs of running her own small businesses. As the CEO of two companies, Creative Logic and Living the Brand Academy®, Lindstrom knows that the external environment can bring challenges to your business. It happened after 9/11, and again after the 2008 financial crisis.

To help weather the storm, Lindstrom has a mantra: “Always continue to be ‘scrappy.’”

“It is easy to become ‘comfortable’ and not have the constant focus on refinement, innovation and growth,” she says. “We have learned to be ambidextrous and never lose the ability to pivot on a dime.”

This means being creative when working with fewer resources, and surviving by focusing on her companies’ purpose, vision, and people. “That is what has sustained us for more than 26 years,” she says. Her team is currently working on a new virtual module that can be taught globally to any audience, which they hope to bring online in early 2021.

Care for yourself, as well as your team

Education CEO Anna Amato

Months into the pandemic, Amato was reminded that leaders need to care for themselves, as well as … [+] for their team members.

Photo provided by edtec

Finally, CEOs of woman-owned businesses remind us that you have to take care of yourself, as well as your team.

Anna Amato, Ph.D., CEO of Michigan-based education firm edtec says when the pandemic threatened her staff, she responded by providing as much care as she could to her team. “This is what makes women so special and different from our counterparts: at our evolutionary core, we are meant to handle the unexpected without being prepared,” she reflects.

But after a few months of helping the company adapt and making sure her team was caring for their own needs, Amato realized something else. “You must take care for yourself first if you want to care for others,” she says.

“This has been the biggest take-away I’ve learned – or rather it was reinforced for me, once again. After all of these months of focusing on others, I needed to set aside the time to consider my own well-being.”

For more on this, see our previous article on how the coronavirus is impacting our moods, and what we can do about it.

Looking forward

What the coming months will hold is still unpredictable. But the CEOs we spoke with say they plan to tackle the future with the same tools they have used to survive to this point. “Our core values, and core instincts, sustain us through crisis,” says Amato.

Sanchez-Greenberg is eager to see what grows from this difficult year. “In the struggle, there are moments of true beauty,” she reflects. “And that’s where we see the seeds of what’s to come.”

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