‘If Not Now, When?’ – Women Entrepreneurs Launch Mid-Pandemic - The Story Exchange

‘If Not Now, When?’ – Women Entrepreneurs Launch Mid-Pandemic - The Story Exchange


‘If Not Now, When?’ – Women Entrepreneurs Launch Mid-Pandemic - The Story Exchange

Posted: 14 Apr 2021 12:00 AM PDT

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Pandemic life has fostered a groundswell of entrepreneurial spirit, especially among women. (Credit: Image by MaximeUtopix from Pixabay)

Last year, as Covid-19 spread, Suzie Qualle felt more toxicity creeping into her corporate workplace. She even began dreading video calls with her boss.

For solace from the stress, she turned to a long-forgotten pastime of hers: making tasbih, or Muslim prayer beads. "It took me about a month of making tasbih again to decide that this is what I was going to do," she says. "I was going to quit my job and career, and start my own business." She followed through on that promise this past August by launching Grounded Revival, a jewelry store based in Alberta, Canada.  

The pandemic, she says, gave her "the time to research and come up with designs for my product line. I am not sure I would have gotten here if it wasn't for [it]."

[Related: 5 Home-Based Small Business Ideas for Starting Up in 2021]

They say necessity is the mother of invention — it is, at the very least, a parent of many startups. While the coronavirus crisis has forever altered our lives, and has had devastating economic consequences for millions of people, it has also fostered a groundswell of entrepreneurial spirit, especially among women.

The U.S. Census Bureau saw a significant uptick in new business filings over the course of the pandemic, with more than 4.4 million new firms created since March 2020 — a 24-percent increase from the previous year. Data compiled for The Washington Post by LinkedIn found that female entrepreneurship grew 5 percent during roughly the same period, more than double the pre-pandemic average.

A Pandemic Startup Boom

Much of the rise in entrepreneurship is a consequence of unemployment, which continues to run rampant, with 114 million jobs lost worldwide last year. In the U.S., rates "peaked at an unprecedented level, not seen since data collection started in 1948," says the Congressional Research Service, a public policy institute. By December 2020, the number of permanent jobs in America lost swelled to 3.3 million.

In what has been dubbed a "she-cession," women have lost more jobs than men as industries dominated by women — think service or retail — have been hit the hardest. Internationally, women suffered 5 percent more job loss overall than men, the International Labour Organization says. 

[Related: Yes, the Pandemic Has Been Devastating on Working Women. But There's Hope]

Mel Tepeyac was one of them. After 9 years as a manager at a legal institute in Phoenix, she was let go during the pandemic. "I needed income and … everything appeared to be shutting down. And with two small children, one of whom has Down syndrome, I was put in a situation where it was 'sink or swim.'" 

In April 2020, she started up a bilingual digital marketing firm, Mevios Media, which caters to education and healthcare firms, as well as an Etsy shop that she runs as a side hustle. She learned the ropes of building and running her online businesses by watching tutorials. It hasn't been a smooth path, she says, but she's landed several clients so far, and it's kept her family afloat.

A joint survey from global payroll service Gusto and the National Association of Women Business Owners shows that Tepeyac isn't alone in her need-driven reasons for launching. A third of new women entrepreneurs polled cited job loss and lack of new opportunities as their reasons for starting up.

The Ladies Who Launched

We recently put forth our own call for women who started up mid-pandemic to tell us their experiences. It yielded well over 100 replies from entrepreneurs near and far who have been navigating the tricky process of starting up while also surviving a pandemic.

And they've launched everything — from online consulting firms for fellow entrepreneurs or parents, to virtual activity centers for people of all ages, to e-commerce sites that sell makeup, toys, clothing and more. 

Jen Hogan of Atlanta is one such entrepreneur. After a 20-year career in corporate marketing, strategy and finance both here and abroad, Hogan had just taken a job in 2019 managing Delta Airlines' SkyMiles program. "Then the pandemic happened," she says. "Airlines and pandemics don't go along well."

[Related: 5 Pandemic Pivots That Show the Resilience of Women Entrepreneurs]

When Delta began cutting back, Hogan took a voluntary severance package last July. "I figured that there were people who needed that job more than I did," she says. That same month, she launched her own business coaching firm, Sakura, to share what she'd learned in the corporate world with others. 

"This was my chance to do something that I truly loved," she says. "It was like the universe was telling me that the nagging voice I had at the back of my mind no longer had any excuses clouding it."

Indeed, a common thread in the responses we received from new business owners was that this radical shift in our lives forced them into taking a leap — whether because they had to, or simply because they wanted to — that they may never have taken otherwise.

Theresa Levine gets it. She's the founder of her own law practice, which she launched in November 2020 — 7 months after the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything for her.

"I left one of my city's largest, most prestigious law firms to begin clerking for a newly elected New York judge in January 2020. The courts shut down in February. By the end of March, I no longer had a job," the Endwell, New York lawyer says.

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"The pandemic allowed me to really focus — less distractions, less 'busy-ness' — while still having plenty of time for myself, for walks, for the simple things," says Vikki Louise, who started her life coaching business last year. (Credit: Vikki Louise)

She describes the experience, and the months of unemployment that followed, as "horrible," "devastating" and rife with shame. But Levine had years of experience and a robust support network to fall back on — and over time, she began to see the professional potential in our now largely-online way of life. So last fall, she launched her virtual firm, which helps clients (in particular, survivors of domestic violence) start their own small businesses.

Finding the Good

The circumstances that led these women to startup life may have been dire. But optimism and yes, even appreciation for new opportunities were also recurring themes in the callout replies we received from women business owners.

"The pandemic allowed me to really focus — less distractions, less 'busy-ness' — while still having plenty of time for myself, for walks, for the simple things," says Vikki Louise, who owns a life coaching firm in Manchester, United Kingdom, that she launched last February, leaving behind a 10-year career in finance and tech just as the pandemic was spreading. It was a shift she had wanted to make anyway — lockdowns simply gave her the excuse to go for it.

Justyna Malota, the New Jersey-based founder of accessory brand Isle Wilde, says the additional time at home led her to "revert back to what made me feel fulfilled" by giving her a chance to, at last, focus more on her jewelry line. She also holds down a job as a project manager for an AI software company. Before Covid-19, she contented herself with working on her creations in whatever small pockets of time she could find. "I knew I wanted to make it an official business, but that little voice told me I wasn't ready and that I just need more time." Like Louise and others, time was what she got by being forced to work from home, and she launched her venture in August 2020.

And some of these new business owners see great potential in our new collective virtual savvy — which is why New York lawyer Levine says she plans to keep her offerings online no matter what. "Taking calls on video in a secure manner is commonplace now. Exchanging documents securely and receiving timely updates should not be a special accommodation. Video conferencing can handle captioning, so making accommodations for individuals with different abilities is easy, if you take a few minutes to offer it," she says. "It's a brave, new, more inclusive world, if we allow for it."

Between the new professional opportunities and the personal benefits — such as more time for themselves and their families — women appear to be finding some good amid an unthinkable global tragedy and the economic collapse that has followed.

As digital marketer Tepeyac sums it up, "I had to [start up], but I found gratitude in that necessity."

[Related: Practical Ideas for Re-Opening Businesses in a Post-Pandemic World]

Women are on the ballot, but far fewer than male candidates - NJ Spotlight

Posted: 20 Apr 2021 09:02 PM PDT

The number of women on this year's primary ballot for the New Jersey Legislature ties a record high since at least the start of the century, though still represents little more than a third of all those who filed to run.

In all, 89 female Democrats and Republicans are seeking their parties' nomination for Senate and Assembly on June 8, the same number as filed four years ago. Like other states, New Jersey saw the number of female candidates for seats at all levels of government increase following the 2016 presidential election, when many were incensed that Donald Trump won the presidency despite the way he had treated women.

In 2017, a record 78 women won their legislative primaries and ran in the November election, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University. But a majority did not win and New Jersey has a lot of ground to make up when compared with other states.

Women account for just 30% of state lawmakers, putting New Jersey 27th in the nation for the proportion of female state legislators in CAWP's latest ranking. Women may be running in New Jersey, but they are not winning at the rates they do in other states: In 2017, New Jersey ranked 14th; in 2019, the state ranked 19th.

WATCH: Will New Jersey elect a record number of women to the Legislature?

READ: Political gender gap still looms large in New Jersey

"This is not a great number, it's not where we should be," said Lisa Randall, who spent more than three decades in politics, including as a Bergen County commissioner, assemblywoman and head of the state Department of Banking and Insurance. "We made progress in the '80's, but I feel like we've stalled a little bit."

Randall, who's a member of the Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics convened by Sen. Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) last year, cited the current political climate as one reason why women are turned off by politics.

"The general tenor of politics today can be very negative," Randall said. "Women ask, 'Why should I throw myself into that cesspool?'"

Lots of deterrents

There are a number of other reasons why women choose not to run for office. These include underestimating their qualifications to serve and being less likely to be encouraged to do so or be recruited by political parties.

"The party structure makes it harder for women to break in," said Debbie Walsh, CAWP's director. A person must curry favor with either the county party chair or county party committee to win the party's endorsement and preferential party-line placement on the ballot, and the parties' power is stronger in New Jersey than in most other states, she added.

Walsh noted that this year, two incumbent assemblywomen did not get party support in their reelection bids and a third who is running for Senate did not seek the endorsement after learning she would not receive it. One sitting assemblyman lost the party line in his district.

Bullying and harassment may be another reason. Over the course of several meetings, the Weinberg workgroup heard from women who said they were talked down to, told how to vote or groped by running mates or political party operatives.

READ: Mistreatment of women in NJ politics: Weinberg's group holds first hearing

WATCH: Are women in politics still facing a toxic work environment?

"It's not surprising that women are reluctant to run for office when the environment in New Jersey is so inhospitable for them," said Julie Roginsky, a Democratic strategist and who is one of several women who said she faced sexual harassment from former Fox News executive Roger Ailes.

"When I first got involved in New Jersey politics 25 years ago, there were an equal number of young men and women engaged," said Roginsky, also a member of the Weinberg group. "Today, I typically find myself the only woman in 'the room where it happens.' That's because women have been presented with a horrific Sophie's Choice: Close your eyes and shut up about the myriad ways in which they are mistreated, reviled and abused, simply for being women — or speak up and have your career cut short."

First-hand experience

Several of the women running this year said they have witnessed or been on the receiving end of subtle instances of sexism, including people — some likely well-meaning — who suggest they change their hair or clothes or smile more.

"I have been privy to a few inappropriate comments about a woman's appearance," said Emma Mammano, who holds master's degrees in psychology and counseling and is making a second run for the Senate in Ocean County's 10th District. "But most of the sexism I see comes in the form of subtle interactions with men who feel entitled to the spotlight, or men who see no problem taking up most of the air in a meeting. There also are men who think their ideas are automatically worthy, whereas woman's ideas should be questioned and scrutinized."

Mammano, a Democrat, continued: "Thankfully, there are many men becoming aware of these tendencies and they are working hard to create a new culture of equality. But sometimes it's hard for them to see themselves clearly unless there's the mirror of a female colleague there to reflect their behaviors back to them. You can't know better and do better unless others hold you accountable. That's why women must be in every room where important decisions are being made."

Female candidates are often driven by more general issues, but some who are running said their gender gives them a unique perspective needed in the Legislature.

Claire Swift, partner in a law firm and former deputy attorney general, noted that if elected in November, she would be the first woman to represent Atlantic County's 2nd District in three decades.

"Every woman that encouraged me to run did so because they see our representatives failing to meet the challenge of this moment," said Swift, a Republican. "Running for office is tough on anyone. But what I have learned from managing a successful small business while running a household with three children is how important it is to be organized, efficient, and deliver on results."

"The more we elect women, the more we get equitable policies for women and families," said Christine Clarke, a Democrat seeking the Senate seat in the 26th District based in Morris County. "These policies are going to come up whether or not we are at the table."

This is Clarke's second try for a legislative seat, after an unsuccessful bid for the Assembly two years ago. Although she said the campaign she waged with her female running mate in 2019 "moved the needle toward blue," the 26th District is still a Republican stronghold and she faces an uphill battle in trying to unseat incumbent Republican Joe Pennacchio, who has served in Trenton for the last two decades.

Taking one for the team

Women in New Jersey are not gaining ground in the Legislature because when they are endorsed by party leaders, it is often for seats in noncompetitive districts that would be difficult to win. Both Mammano and Clarke are running in solidly Republican districts. Mammano is running alongside an Assembly ticket that comprises a man and a woman, while both of Clarke's running mates are women. Likewise, in deep-blue Hudson County's 31st and 32nd districts, three of four Republican Assembly candidates and one of two Senate candidates are women.

"Sometimes you see when the party wants to look good, they say, 'We are running women,' but they're in places where they don't have a shot," Walsh said. "Women will do it and say, 'I'm going to be a good soldier and take one for the team.' But you should get something out of it, another position. There needs to still be pressure put on the parties to support women in winnable districts."

The races for nominations for this year's legislative seats left vacant by retirements and other factors are more of a mixed bag. Of the four open state Senate seats, only one of 11 candidates running in both parties is a woman. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle is facing an uphill challenge to win the Democratic nomination in the 37th District because her opponent and fellow Assembly member Gordon Johnson won the backing of the Bergen County Democratic party. Weinberg is endorsing him, as well.

On the Assembly side, though, half of all candidates seeking open seats are women, including all four Democrats in the 37th District and all five candidates from both parties in the 21st District based in Union County.

Both Huttle and Johnson are running to replace Weinberg in the Senate. Weinberg is currently the only woman in one of six leadership roles in both houses. But with two other men giving up their spots due to either retirement or seeking a different office, there is a potential opportunity for more women to hold powerful legislative positions when the new session begins next January.

While more female office holders and office seekers are Democrats than Republicans, CAWP's Walsh said both parties need to make a greater effort at recruiting women candidates for seats they can win.

"That kind of intentionality is what is needed for real change in the state," she said. "If we don't see a major increase in the number of women who run, we won't see an increase in the number of women who hold office."

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