May 19th, 2020
By Hilla Ovil-Brenner, Managing Director of Techstars Tel Aviv and a serial entrepreneur
In recent months COVID-19 has spread, infecting millions of people, impacting all of humankind, and changing everything we knew about this world as it used to be. We have begun to witness its grave impact on our global economy and culture. But while we’ve all been affected by the pandemic, the impact on women has been particularly large.
Today, I want to unpack the impact on women entrepreneurs in particular.
The juggle of work and kids, one of the biggest challenges parents face even without a global pandemic, intensifies when everyone is confined to your own four walls. Couples will have to decide how to divide the new labor of caring for children all day and helping then with their education. Too often, women resign themselves to turning back to their traditional role and take a step back from their careers. Some couples justify this if the man in the couple earns more than the women, which is still all-too common. Emerging evidence on the impact of COVID-19 suggests clearly that women’s economic and productive lives will be affected disproportionately and differently from men.
COVID-19 has also impacted entrepreneurs in unimaginable ways. For women entrepreneurs, trying to stay afloat amidst this catastrophe may seem impossible. Women starting businesses already experience barriers to entry and a lack of funding compared to men. They are underrepresented, and since investors turn to protect their existing portfolios - which includes very few women founders, it is therefore easy to assume women-led ventures will be hit in a severe way by this pandemic. But I also believe that women-led ventures will be the backbone of recovery in communities.
My research into and experience with women entrepreneurs indicates that many women believe motivation and creativity come from being around other people. They are excellent networkers and promote their startups using these connections. Social distancing has a severe effect on this creativity, and many of the women I’ve talked with recently say that they are finding it harder to be creative and to self-motivate.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents us with an opportunity to affect systemic changes that could protect women from bearing the heaviest burden of shocks like this in the future. This could be an opportunity — everything we do during and after the COVID-19 crisis must aim to build more equal, inclusive, and sustainable economies and societies. We should listen to women's voices to decide what to do when coming out of the crisis.
Facilitate the shift from precarious jobs to more stable and better-protected employment.
Open new opportunities to women as employees and entrepreneurs.
The EU leads by good example, as applications for EU grants that include women founders are looked at with preference.
This period is an excellent time for the investor community to reach out to women led ventures and familiarize themselves with these ventures so that when this period is over they will become great candidates for potential investments to eliminate the gap.
We need more women to be decision makers in our future societies, for so many evident reasons. Women are 51% of the population, we are underrepresented in nearly all decisions related to this crisis. Maternal thinking — thinking that takes into account families and children — is far too absent from this crisis.
These times are harder on women entrepreneurs than on man entrepreneurs but might lead us to create a more equal world that is more resilient to future crises. It is crucial that all national responses place women entrepreneurs — their inclusion, representation, rights, social and economic outcomes, equality and protection — at their centre if they are to have the necessary impacts.
This is not just about rectifying long-standing inequalities. It is also about building a more just and resilient world. It is in the interests of not only women entrepreneurs but the entire industry — and quite honestly our entire world.
Hilla Ovil-Brenner is managing director of the Techstars Tel Aviv Accelerator. A serial entrepreneur in the high-tech industry for the past 20 years, she is a true believer in innovation and team spirit. Hilla specializes in turning dreams into reality through passion, experience, and skill. She was named one of the top 100 influential people in the hi-tech ecosystem by geektime. Hill is the Founder of Yaazamiyot, the biggest female founders group in Israel.