The women’s organization has received more than 7,500 inquiries from businesses and individuals since the COVID-19 lockdown began a year ago, more than double its average annual rate.
On March 23, 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a national lockdown. In a week of announcements that rocked the nation, those with underlying health problems were advised to provide shelter, school closings, and the NHS to cancel all non-emergency surgery appointments. The UK broke new ground when over 66 million people were isolated at home overnight.
The women’s organization’s diverse team has quickly adapted to support the thousands of companies and individuals who rely on their advice, expertise and guidance. Just two days after the lockdown announcement shocked the business world, they hosted their first online session on Zoom. The “Planning for Business” session was very popular. Participants signed up to continue realizing their independent dreams despite the restrictions in place.
As the organization would discover in the coming months, as women sought support as women adapted to the changing world and in dire need of business advice, demand for their services increased. When the country closed, the women’s organization changed course.
As the blackout weeks stretched for months, the restrictions on treatment for COVID disproportionately affected women. Research has shown that not only women were more affected by COVID-related unemployment and that their jobs were four times as frequent as men.Where schools and kindergartens had to be closed, women have taken on the additional burden of childcare and home schooling – even if they continue to do so Work from home. This created an environment in which one in four women was forced to downshift their careers or leave their positions.
For some, this has been an opportunity to examine how to start their own business and women across the UK sought help and advice on how through new ventures they can start a business and make meaningful change.
Spurred on by the enthusiasm and drive customers showed in the face of adversity, a digital program of more than 150 training courses, workshops, and webinars was launched, and business consultants offered appointments via Zoom, WhatsApp, or phone to ensure they were given expert advice Immediately available and one-on-one meetings and mentoring offered individual support as well as online group workshops and informal Q&A-style discussions for companies. The impact was enormous.
The coordinator of Francine Taylor’s Business Advice team at the women’s organization said:
“Over the past year, the way we support our customers has changed a lot. Our flexible approach allows us to provide the same level of support to women starting a new business or seeking help with their current business.
“The most noticeable difference between starting a business and growing a business in 2020 was the lack of financial support. Without our expert help and guidance, many women may not have had access to loans and grants because the usual routes were closed.
“I am proud to look back on the last 12 months and to say that not only have we continued to support women in business, but also the number of those who access our services and who still get the help they need have increased by 50% is very difficult times. “
The women’s organization is proud to have made a contribution to supporting women in an incredibly difficult year. Annual figures show that the charity has received more than twice as many inquiries and has provided vital assistance to more than 1,100 companies in order to get access to finance and business grants.
The women’s organization plays a key role in women’s research and, together with a number of influential government partners, has produced no fewer than 7 research and strategy papers over the past year to influence policy and stimulate change. These include the report “Rethinking the Economy for an Inclusive and Sustainable Future” published in October 2020 and the “State of Small Business Britain 2020” report, which was produced with the Enterprise Research Center.
Maggie O’Carroll, CEO of the women’s organization added:
“It was an extraordinary year in which everything has changed, an amazing loss of life and fear and fear. A year in which women bore the brunt of home schooling, care, job loss, and a tsunami of abuse and misogyny that all too often resulted in injuries and worse.
“It was also a year of hope and optimism, where people and communities came together to help each other, and where entrepreneurs did what they do best – inventive, innovative, based on obvious needs, opportunities and react to risks.
“Social entrepreneurs and corporations have led the way in providing life-saving and improved services, from mental health support to education, food delivery to care, arts and cultural events. Equality, diversity, inclusion and social worth are at the heart of what they do, how and why they do it. It’s not over yet so we need to keep moving, but in the meantime, it’s useful to look back at what has been done, what has been achieved and what impact it is having.
“This virus has exposed the already entrenched inequalities in our society, which have only been exacerbated by measures taken to combat COVID. It is important to restore this balance and ensure that women and other groups are adequately protected and supported in order to reach their potential and play a full role in social and economic life.
“Businesses need to adapt quickly and adopt gender-specific workplace policies and practices, including flexible work arrangements and family-friendly workplaces, which in turn promote a better balance between care and family responsibilities between women and men.”
The next few months are uncertain as the government-set roadmap for COVID recovery moves into the next phase. With new news and possible future bans, it is difficult to make plans with confidence. The women’s organization is committed to supporting women wherever the roadmap leads us. Supporting, facilitating and promoting business and personal wellbeing and development, as well as helping women reach their potential, remain at the heart of the women’s organization’s values.