Media release: WES points to economic impact of Coronavirus pandemic on Scotland’s women-led businesses

Anne Meikle

POLICY chiefs at Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) have voiced concerns that the current Coronavirus outbreak could have a disproportionately negative economic impact on women both at home and at work.

WES, the community interest company which focuses on the contribution women’s enterprise makes to the Scottish economy, is calling for the Scottish Government and the Expert Covid-19 Advisory Group to ensure a gender perspective is applied to all support measures being put in place, including business support.

Whilst all SMEs are facing disruption on a scale never seen before, WES points out that women are more likely to work and be business owners in the sectors most affected by the Coronavirus outbreak, including health, social care, catering, cleaning, hospitality and retail.

Women are also more likely to take on the ‘second shift’ of care at home, particularly if a family member is sick or has to be isolated (either young or elderly) and are more likely to be affected by school and nursery closures, having a disproportionate impact on their ability to work or run businesses from home.

This is echoed by research published today (Monday 6 April) by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, showing that a “remarkable concentration” of workers under 25, women and the worst-paid are most likely to be affected by the economic effects of the Coronavirus lockdown.

WES Policy manager, Anne Meikle, said: “There is no question that businesses of all types and sizes are being adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis and it is heartening to see the enterprise ecosystem pulling together.

“Scotland’s economic strategy promotes  inclusive growth and we must all work closely together to ensure that no-one is left behind as support is put in place. Our expertise allows us to support inclusive growth by taking a gendered view of the  rapidly changing situation and there is a clear risk that women will be disproportionately affected economically from what is happening across the country, and indeed across the world.”

She continued: “Women-led businesses are, on average, less than 50 per cent of the size of male-led businesses. They represent less than 25 per cent of business in the UK’s five most productive sectors, with women-owned businesses still dominant in sectors such as healthcare, personal services, administration and retail.

“Women entrepreneurs are underrepresented in the most productive, high value sectors in Scotland and throughout the UK. Women start their businesses with 53 per cent less capital than men, and also tend to draw more upon private capital (including personal savings) and family finances, which make them especially vulnerable to the disruption caused by the pandemic.”

Support is urgently needed to assist these businesses to pivot, re-purpose and execute strategies to help them continue as best they can. Needs-based, gender specific support can assist in boosting impact and WES is working with other organisations to help give business leaders more access to critical digital tools and resilience support.

Anne Meikle concluded: “We are calling for the Scottish Government and the newly established Scottish Expert Group on Covid-19 to recognise gender differences in the economic effects of the pandemic, and ensure equality impact assessment of support measures.

“Gathering gender disaggregated data is also crucial during this crisis as this will inform future responses to such crises. We also call for the Scottish Government to ensure that the £320m rescue package announced for businesses is distributed fairly across key business sectors, including to the women in business sector, and specifically targets those facing a high risk of economic vulnerability and disrupted earnings capability.”

For further information about Women’s Enterprise Scotland, please contact Gaynor Simpson on 07790 104073 or email

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