In a new survey, 54 percent of respondents, women entrepreneurs whose businesses have at least $1 million in annual sales and are primarily based in North America, said that the "great threat to their bottom line" was sourcing and keeping high-caliber employees. Ernst & Young (EY) and the Women Presidents' Organization (WPO) shared results of the survey, which comprised of 374 women, exclusively with Inc.
"Historically, this has been the No. 1 issue for entrepreneurs," says Lisa Schiffman, director of brand, marketing, and communications with Americas EY Private, which supports business owners in the Americas and Israel. In spite of the retention challenges and myriad other difficulties business owners have faced, only 34 percent of respondents said they have reduced headcount during the pandemic, while 18 percent reported increasing it.
The survey also highlighted how much business owners have relied on their employees to manage through the past year and a half. Roughly half of the people surveyed reported increasing their revenue post-Covid. Among that group, 66 percent attributed their success to their team's ability to "adapt to change." Increased demand was another major factor, at 63 percent.
There was a theme of optimism in the survey results, with 79 percent of the group indicating they have a "positive outlook" about their businesses' ability to expand in 2021. However, the poll was taken in April and May, before the Delta variant swept the U.S.
Even before Delta, the pandemic had an effect on respondents' mindsets and strategies: 71 percent said COVID-19 altered how they see positive performance in their businesses, and 73 percent said they have made diversity and inclusion a greater priority.
One troubling finding, for Schiffman, is that the women surveyed reported relying heavily on funding from banks (42 percent) or the government (32 percent), sources that she says don't offer the same expertise and opportunities for scaling as venture capital.
Conducted via email from April 16 to May 9, the survey queried members of the WPO and alumni of the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women program, which supports women entrepreneurs. This is the fourth annual survey conducted on the topic by EY and WPO.