By Women Impacting Public Policy

Today is International Women’s Day, a time to reflect on the extraordinary role women have played in the growth and development of modern society, as well as their important contributions to American innovation and our economy.

The leadership of female entrepreneurs has shaped the modern American economy, while paving a path for the next generation of women innovators. From C-suite leaders, such as Adena Friedman, president and CEO of Nasdaq; Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture; and Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle Corporation, to small businesses across the country, women have broken glass ceilings in the business world and accelerated our nation’s economic growth and development.

In 1972, an estimated four percent of total businesses were owned by women. In 2019, more than 40 percent of businesses were women-owned. And from 2014 to 2019, employment by women-owned businesses increased by approximately eight percent, while revenue grew to nearly $2 trillion.

While the last few years were shaped by economic growth and a rise in female entrepreneurship, the COVID-19 pandemic has left female workers particularly vulnerable to the effects of the economic downturn. Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a regression in gender equality, widening the gender gap in our nation’s labor force participation and leaving women at greater economic risk than males.

As women are more likely to own companies that rely on foot-traffic, women-owned businesses in the United States were forced to cut more jobs than businesses owned by men since the onset of COVID-19. A study found that in 2020, women were 22 percent more likely to be laid off than men from their job and 24 percent more likely to be furloughed, a notably wider gap than in previous years. A survey found that globally, women-owned businesses were nearly six percent more likely to have shut down their businesses than male business owners, and according to a McKinsey and Company study, women comprise approximately 39 percent of global employment, but more than 50 percent of total job losses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on the economic and financial security of women around the world. But in the midst of the pandemic, technology platforms have enabled women-owned businesses to continue to operate. While foot-traffic has drastically declined, technology platforms have given businesses the tools they need to interact with and market their products to customers, regardless of geographic location.

When lockdowns began, Jenny Ray, a small business owner in Laguna Beach, California, turned to online platform Etsy to continue operating her floral arrangement business. But what began as a business that catered primarily to local weddings soon caught the attention of thousands of individuals nationwide, thanks to the wide visibility the platform was able to provide. And Jenny is not alone. Rachel Laryea, founder of Kelewele, a healthy lifestyle brand that offers food delivery services in New York City, has increasingly relied on digital platforms, hosting videos and live sessions to market to consumers.

The pandemic has been a time of great economic upheaval and uncertainty, but technology has helped us adapt to keep businesses afloat that otherwise might have closed. Around the world, technologies like smart phones, social networking platforms, and online marketing tools are helping female entrepreneurs and innovators stay connected and reach new audiences in the age of social distancing. Now, as our nation strives to recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, our policymakers must look to solutions that maintain our technological edge to support our economic recovery and empower the next generation of American women innovators.