It started out as a semi-normal week. I was in Ottawa for an event, and booked for another in BC the following week — in my role, I’m accustomed to traversing the country — when I was told BDC had put on a travel moratorium, and I had to go back home to Calgary.
That was Wednesday. By Friday, we had all of our 2,300 employees working from home. As the only Canadian bank devoted exclusively to entrepreneurs, we knew that all of our clients — as well as a broader community of business owners across the country — had just as suddenly had their worlds upended.
Many of us, myself included, were quickly trained and deployed into new jobs to help entrepreneurs. I volunteered to be a relief loan writer, quickly filling up the time I used to spend on airplanes. Within a few weeks, we received as many loan applications as we typically do in a year. Everyone at BDC — no matter their role or title — had been mobilized to rise to the challenge and increase support. We’re doing all we can to make sure that the influx of calls are answered, online resources are available, our clients know we’re virtually here for them, and the extra capital we’re making available is getting into the hands of the entrepreneurs that need it. We have even launched a dedicated hub to help entrepreneurs navigate relief programs and access support.
While I’m new to loan applications, throughout my more than 25 years at BDC I’ve always had the privilege of working directly with entrepreneurs. For the last five years I’ve been able to focus my energy on women business owners, and I’ve learned a lot leading the bank’s strategy to support and grow this group.
“Another thing I’ve learned over all these years is that women entrepreneurs are persistent and resilient. It’s definitely a mindset that we all need right now — and I think it’s one that we can share with each other.”
In the best of times, women face unique challenges when starting and growing a business — from accessing capital to finding role models and mentors. Due to these and other roadblocks, women entrepreneurs earn on average 58% less revenue annually than their male peers running similar businesses. These issues are being amplified in the current economic climate, and more pressures are piling on. Many women business owners operate in the industries that have been hardest hit, like health care, wellness, and hospitality. Add on to that working from home while taking care of kids, aging parents, or both (women in Canada still take on more caregiving responsibilities, as compared to men), with the usual support systems often inaccessible.
I know it’s challenging — which is why I’m very proud that BDC is still making it a priority to support women entrepreneurs’ success. I’m also optimistic, because another thing I’ve learned over all these years is that women entrepreneurs are persistent and resilient. It’s definitely a mindset that we all need right now — and I think it’s one that we can share with each other.
Over the next few months, I’ll be using this column to bring you uplifting interviews with women entrepreneurs who are not only surviving this crisis, but have also started looking towards the future, finding innovative ways to thrive, and paying it forward. My hope is that these inspirational stories will help you navigate your own journey, recognize that you have a whole community rooting for you, and, perhaps most importantly, offer the belief that you can get through this, too.
We’re nearly two months in, and I know all of us are getting a little sick of hearing that “our new normal” is an “unprecedented time,” and “we’re stronger together.” But, it’s true, we are stronger together. In my experience, it’s where the magic happens.
Before that fateful Wednesday in March — and even more so after it — there’s power in having a network, and being a part of a community that supports and learns from each other. When women unite, they build thriving businesses faster, and now’s the time we need it most.