Existing inequities have been magnified during the economic troubles, business leaders say.
Photo Credit: AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post,
Article By Judith Kohler of The Denver Post
Alicia Scott inspects her roof on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020. Alicia Scott, founder and CEO of Roots to Roof, is a member of an organization started by the company Just Fearless to help women stay in business.
Alicia Scott went from answering phones and doing the filing at a roofing company to being a production manager and then a vice president. She then struck out on her own.
“A couple of years ago, I decided I had enough working crazy hours and being the first one in and the last to leave,” Scott said. “I decided that it was time to make a change, so I started my own company.”
Scott, who lives in Golden, started Roots to Roofs in 2017, offering landscaping and exterior construction services. Her staff grew to eight full-time employees, but has been cut in half since the coronavirus pandemic exploded. The company’s revenue has dropped by 40%.
“We’ve tightened up ship quite a bit. We’re not taking on any marketing, stuff like that,” said Scott, when asked if she thinks her company can hang on. “But it’s been difficult.”
Weathering the pandemic has been rough for many businesses, but a recent report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said female-owned small businesses have been disproportionately affected. A survey by Ipsos found that the businesses were more likely than those owned by men to report a significant decline in the health of their business since the pandemic started. They were also less likely to be planning new investments for the coming year.
Before the pandemic, 67% of the male owners described the overall health of their business as “somewhat or very good,” compared to 60% of female-owned businesses. In July, 62% of male owners still described their businesses that way, while only 47% of female owners did.
“When you look at the broader context, it is a giant alarm bell,” said Tom Sullivan, vice president for small-business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
That’s because over the last five years, female-owned businesses, about 42% of the small businesses nationwide, saw their employment grow 8%, compared to just 1.8% for all businesses, according to a 2019 report by American Express. The number of female-owned small businesses increased 21% during that period compared to 9% for businesses overall.
Sullivan said it’s troubling to see the fast-growing segment of the small-business economy losing steam.
There are 139,760 female business owners in Colorado, accounting for 39.8% of all business owners in the state, according to a new report by Self Financial, which helps build and improve credit. Colorado has the 14th-highest percentage of female business owners.
The pandemic has magnified inequities faced by minority- and female-owned businesses, like access to loans and other capital, Sullivan said. Compounding the challenges is that many female-owned businesses, such as retail shops and hair salons, rely on foot traffic and are more vulnerable when restrictions are imposed.
More federal help is needed, Sullivan said. The chamber is pushing for bipartisan support for more stimulus funding.
Kisha Mays, founder and CEO of Just Fearless and an angel investor, said she believes it’s a matter of when, not if, Congress approves more money to help businesses cope with the pandemic.
“But that next bill of coronavirus relief won’t happen at least until maybe February 2021,” Mays said. “And you still have Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s — three months essentially. How are these businesses that need help now supposed to wait for three months and hope they’ll get help?”
So, Mays, whose company works with primarily female-owned businesses, sped up a grant program that was in the works. One of her ventures, HERstory Connections, a support network for female entrepreneurs, closed the first round of applications for $5,000 grants and expects to open another.
“It might help them pay rent for a month or two. It might help them make payroll,” Mays said.
Her long-term goal is to see 1 million female business founders produce a minimum of $1 million in annual revenue by the end of 2025. Mays said less than 2% of female-owned businesses now generate at least seven figures in annual revenue.
“We start businesses at a faster rate than men but we get funded at a slower rate,” Mays said. “And now you see them struggling.”
Scott, the roofing company owner, didn’t apply for a grant or other funding but has turned to women’s business organizations, including HERstory, for support, networking, training sessions and other resources.
“Just having someone to talk with and connect with, to be able to get through whatever challenges we’re going through, that’s been really big for me.”
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