This is not the Great Recession, it’s the Great Reset

By Bonnie Foley-Wong

It has become glaringly apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately and negatively impacts women. COVID-19-related shelter-at-home policies began in earnest in March in Canada and globally. From February to April, over 1.5 million working women lost their jobs – five per cent more than men over the same period. However, women were hit first by unemployment.

Among workers in the core working age demographic of 25 to 54 years, women represented 70% of all job losses in the month of March, according to a labour force report from Statistics Canada.

Most schools and childcare facilities remain closed, placing an even greater burden on working mothers to sacrifice work responsibilities for caregiving. As COVID-19 restrictions ease, a greater proportion of the job losses experienced are being recovered among men (14%) compared with women (5.4%), says Statistics Canada.

Investing feels like an optimism-filled, future-oriented activity. Investing money in anticipation of a return down the road is the belief in future prosperity and opportunity.

The past is not always a predictor of the future and that couldn’t be truer in this time of great social and economic uncertainty. But this is not the Great Recession. It’s the Great Reset.

Now is an opportunity to invest in businesses that fundamentally prioritize and value women, their skills and perspectives, and their contribution to society and the economy. Three areas ripe for change in light of COVID-19 are women in the workforce, women in leadership and women’s access to capital.

Women in the Workforce

COVID-19 has forced flexible work arrangements into the spotlight. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Off-ramps and On-ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success, wrote about the need for flexible work schedules, flexible career paths and removing the stigma of flexible work arrangements as strategies for retaining and advancing women in the workforce. She also addressed the need to give women the opportunity to give back to their community within their roles, as well as nurture their ambition.

Now would be the time to advance these objectives.

We must also reduce the gender pay and wealth gap and give women the opportunity to earn their full value. Women should have the opportunity to save money to weather future storms.

Women in Leadership

Women are at the forefront of the global response to COVID-19, whether as leaders of nations or as public health officials. Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, has been praised for her empathetic leadership. Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia, delivers her daily COVID-19 updates with calm and care. They are leading with facts and empathy. This combination is needed for decisiveness because it’s not one or the other that is the foundation for good decision-making, but analysis and emotion working together.

Unusual allies have emerged. Tom Peters, business management leader and author of In Search of Excellence, wished for a future with more women in leadership. On Twitter, he mused about his “top 2 post-coronavirus dreams: (1) Never again a promotion of anyone to management who does not have a truckload of empathy (high EQ) [and] a demonstrated “people first” track record. (2) More, more, more women in senior leadership roles ASAP.”

Access to Capital

With economic uncertainty, travel restrictions and physical distancing measures, women are at risk of facing even greater barriers raising capital for their ventures or funds. Investors may focus their efforts and capital on entrepreneurs and fund managers with longer track records and with whom they have established relationships.

Samir Kaji, Senior Managing Director at First Republic Bank, known for his emerging manager research, remarked, “If we truly believe venture requires diversity of thought to achieve great returns, [then] why aren’t [more institutional] investors taking the appropriate [risks] on those entering the space that don’t look [or] feel like the old archetype?”

At the Equality Fund, we see an opportunity for investors to double down on gender-lens investing and take informed risks on female entrepreneurs and fund managers. It’s this forward-thinking lens, rather than hanging onto old ways of the past that are clearly broken, that will be rewarded in the future.

The traditional approach to business, entrepreneurship and innovation has cracked under pressure and left many people behind. It is my hope that we’ll see the emergence of new ways of funding that ensure everyone along the whole spectrum of business and entrepreneurship can access the capital they need to survive and thrive.

Bonnie Foley-Wong is the Head of Investment Strategy at the Equality Fund. Follow her on Twitter @BonnieOWong