Dr Poonam Malik, Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and Member of the RSE’s Post-COVID-19 Futures Commission Building National Resilience Working Group.
A recent report from the Scottish Government highlighted the disproportionate effect COVID-19 has had on a variety of groups, such as women, ethnic minorities, and low paid workers. Job losses have had a bigger impact on women and ethnic minorities, partly due to the fact that women are more likely to work in sectors subjected to lockdown restrictions, such as hospitality, retail, leisure, travel or tourism.
Similarly, repeated school and nursery closures have impacted on women’s workload, as there are still more single-mother households than single-father, and childcare is still predominantly delivered by women. According to a study (Women and COVID-19), women are twice as likely as men to have given up paid work to care for children, and the statistics in business aren’t much better.
A study by CrunchBase found a 27% decline in venture funding for female-founded start-up businesses across the globe in 2020, compared with the same period last year. It highlighted the effect COVID-19 is having on company investment, especially those founded or co-founded by women.
So how can we prevent this pandemic from reversing the progress we have made towards workplace equality, diversity, and inclusion?
We need more focussed investment. If funding is earmarked and made available for people of colour, black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and diverse female founders, we will build better national resilience across the board. It is a known fact that women & founders from BAME communities start more social enterprises, and investing in them will boost the economy and utilise the full potential of talent we have available in this country.
We should focus on young, motivated, and diverse founders who are keen to start and grow technology businesses and social enterprises, as this will benefit the entire society. If we make the most of available talent, global economic opportunities and build better risk-management for future resilience, then funding women and diverse BAME entrepreneurs is an investment in future, and not a cost.
Addressing a decline in investment in female-founded businesses will require real focus from the government, angel and venture investment community and other relevant stakeholders. That’s why it was great to see the Royal Society of Edinburgh recently announce funding designed to support those whose academic work has been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, particularly those who have taken on caring responsibilities due to Covid-19, are disabled, or are part of LGBTQIA+ or BAME groups.
There are a range of opportunities we can embrace in order to reimagine our economy and “build back better, such as enhanced mentoring and training opportunities for female business founders, and making cash grants more widely available to female businesses in order to aid a faster recovery. We should also be looking to provide more platform opportunities to young, diverse people of colour and BAME women to make their work more visible, and their voices more prominent.
Confronted as we are by the twin challenges of climate change crisis and post-Brexit trading, we must prioritise rebuilding an inclusive, diverse, greener, and wellbeing-focused economy. The disruption brought about in the last 12 months offers a unique generational opportunity to reimagine and redesign a new economic model which is fairer and yet more productive. As Britain emerges from the pandemic, the challenge of inclusivity, diversity, equity of access and parity of opportunities in businesses and entrepreneurship requires our urgent attention.