Why women-led businesses are thriving during COVID-19

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The pandemic has hit many businesses hard, with women disproportionately feeling the negative impacts. Yet, many organizations with women at the helm are not only survivingthey’re thriving.

Companies with female representation at the top have 50% higher profits and share performance. The pandemic does not appear to change this trend.

In speaking with women leaders in B.C., I discovered six strategies that set them apart.

Investment in people

At the start of the pandemic, Karen Barber, president of Novex Delivery Solutions, decided to invest in training and coaching for her sales team. Prompted by her care for her staff, the move netted positive returns.

“Don’t be afraid to spend time and money investing in your people,” Barber said. “I see such a difference in my team, and the amount of sales they’re bringing in now during a pandemic is more than last year.”

Research shows that women in leadership roles demonstrate more empathy than men. Women score higher on 11 out of 12 emotional intelligence measures and rank higher on people-orientation. According to a Harvard Business Review article, high EQ often correlates with increased revenue, highlighting the need for empathic and team-focused leaders.

Work-life integration and self-care

Women in leadership have a higher tendency of avoiding burnout for themselves and their staff by embracing resiliency strategies, including taking time for self-care and focusing on wellness in team meetings.

Bridgitte Alomes, CEO of Natural Pod, begins meetings asking staff for three things they accomplished last week. “It wasn’t always about work,” she explained. “It’s consistently showing care and compassion.”

In my recent work, I’ve focused on helping leaders manage pandemic fatigue and burnout. Developing strategies to mitigate and recover from stress and build resiliency leads to lower quit rates and higher employee retention.

Transparency and clear communication

Amanda Lee Smith, partner at Monday Creative, credits transparency as integral to her success. “When the pandemic hit, we knew we had to let our team look behind the curtain,” she explained. “It meant when we briefly cut salaries, they were already on board, knowing they were our first priority and their jobs were secure.”

Leaders can generate higher levels of trust and engagement when they are honest about risks and communicate a clear path ahead. Transparency in leadership leads to quicker solutions, team trust, genuine relationships and higher performance.

Curiosity, creativity and collaboration

The women interviewed identified curiosity, creativity and collaboration as key strategies for success, leading to novel solutions they may not have otherwise embraced.

Andrea Curtis, interim executive director at Vancouver Mural Festival, created a contemporary art experience in downtown Vancouver using augmented reality “to connect people and art in a safe way.”

Women also effectively engage in participative decision-making during a crisis. Vanessa LeBourdais, executive producer and co-founder of DreamRider Productions, initiated an iterative decision-making process with her advisory team and staff to determine next steps.

Reflective practices

Creating space for reflection before action leads to increased productivity, creativity and innovation.

The women interviewed emphasized the importance of allowing time for reflection and used a range of reflective practices to disengage from crisis reactivity, including walking and journaling. Taking time to reflect helped the leaders consider all of the factors, avoid mistakes and make informed and effective decisions.

Agility

Once they have engaged in collaborative and reflective decision-making, women leaders take quick action.

Barber described shifting rapidly to a work-from-home-model – something Novex had never done. She noted they quickly prioritized a digital communication system allowing staff to work from home. Indeed, research shows that agile organizations are twice as likely to report doing better during the pandemic.

Lessons for leaders

What can we learn from women in leadership who are successfully navigating this pandemic? Firstly, we need to hire and retain more women leaders. The pool is still much too small. Secondly, these six strategies are worth the investment – they are familiar to business leaders but often not implemented. The leaders interviewed offered evidence that these strategies improved their revenue as well as staff engagement and fulfilment.

Expanding from a gendered perspective, any leader can embrace these strategies to help organizations flourish throughout the pandemic and beyond. After all, as Curtis noted, “We’re in this for the long run.” •

 

Julia Somody is a registered psychologist and certified executive coach who specializes in helping leaders and organizations change and flourish.