Using Your Leadership Skills to Transform your Business

Here are some strategies that women entrepreneurs can use to face the challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

By Karla Gallardo, CEO of VIWALA 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an immediate and outsized impact on women entrepreneurs in Latin America. They are running a higher risk of having to close their businesses for prolonged periods of time, leading to a substantial decrease in and/or total loss of their income. Recently, more than 50% of small and medium-sized enterprises in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries reported significant income loss that put them at risk of shuttering during the next three months. 

A recent survey on the impact of COVID-19 on the economy conducted by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) found that 45% of women-led businesses in Mexico were negatively impacted by the pandemic, a number that dropped to 39% for businesses led by men. 

According to INEGI, three out of every five small and medium-sized enterprises that open in Mexico are led by women. At the same time, women entrepreneurs contribute 37% of the country’s GDP. However, despite women’s significant contributions to the Mexican economy, they still face significant challenges and disadvantages. Women in Mexico dedicate four hours more than men to unpaid care and domestic work, an unequal division of labor that makes finding a balance between personal and professional responsibilities practically impossible for women. Not to mention the fact that the economic value of unpaid domestic work is estimated to represent up to $4.4 billion pesos (INEGI). 

In the face of these challenges, women entrepreneurs across Latin America have refused to give up and have adjusted, adapted, and reinvented themselves to come back stronger than ever. Here are five strategies that can help you navigate this difficult time:  

Be empathetic but firm in your decision-making: Although it might seem a little contradictory, finding a balance between these two qualities is critical in business. During a crisis, it is important to be able to put yourself in the shoes of your clients, providers, and especially your team, and then to use this empathy to make firm and rational decisions that support your business’s long-term success.  

Define priorities: During a crisis, you have to be willing to take risks and, by extension, to fail. However, it is critical to clearly define what you’re willing to risk and what you absolutely cannot afford to lose. Establishing a list of two or three clear priorities will inform your decision-making process and help you define the path forward for your business. 

Identify opportunities: Just because there’s an economic crisis doesn’t mean that your customers’ needs have completely disappeared. This is a good time to reinvent yourself and your business to offer new products and services online, or to simply adapt your existing products and services to the “new normal” of consumption patterns.  

Strengthen transparency and effective communication: In times of crisis, it’s easy to let communication fall by the wayside in favor of more “important” activities. A resilient leader prioritizes communication and transparency with their team, customers, and providers. Sharing information will help you overcome any challenges you might face. 

Be more agile, flexible, and adaptable: The pandemic has plunged practically everybody into absolute uncertainty. You might have to make decisions overnight or adjust your strategy to adapt to the “new normal.” Now is the time to stay creative, pro-active, and agile so that you can take advantage of any opportunities that emerge during this crisis. 

Now more than ever it is crucial to invest in women. Supporting initiatives that strengthen access to financial services, capacity building, and health care is essential in order to create a sustainable economy that advances gender equity and prepares us for future crises. Organizations like VIWALA and Pro Mujer are working to provide a comprehensive response to the crisis. VIWALA offers women access to revenue-based loans, while Pro Mujer offers entrepreneurship training to help women entrepreneurs use digital platforms to create e-commerce strategies and expand their businesses.  

I hope that in a few years, we’ll be able to look back on this terrible pandemic and be grateful for the better world that it helped us create.