The pandemic changed our working practices. Australian women left the workplace in greater numbers than men during the Pandemic due to the closure of sectors and the increased care-giving responsibilities. Women are now reassessing their work goals at the end of the pandemic.

More Australian women are launching businesses than ever before, as the Great Resignation is looming. Millions of Aussies will be quitting their jobs.

Dynamic Business interviewed Kristen Phillips from UNSW New Wave’s Founder Program, which supports female-founded businesses.

What impact has the changing work environment and pandemic had on women?

Kristen : While the pandemic has affected most people, it is women who have suffered disproportionately from the loss of employment, increased care responsibilities, and schooling requirements. Total female employment in Australia has fallen by 1.4%, while men’s levels of employment have declined by 0.4%. The impact on young women has been particularly severe because they are overrepresented among the industries that have been most affected by lockdowns. These include the arts and retail sectors.

Women make up 70% of the workforce in the health and social services sector. They also face greater risks, as they are on the frontline, and may be exposed to the virus, and their families.

The pandemic not only revealed the relative circumstances of women, but also exacerbated gender gaps. Workplace Gender Equality Agency reports that the national gender pay gap has increased by 0.8 percent in the last six months. There is also a glimmer hope, as more women who are facing career problems due to COVID are now launching their own businesses.

Is the change in the way we work having a positive impact on women who previously were unsure of starting their own businesses?

Kristen : “Even before pandemics, we heard women complain about working long hours at lower-paid jobs and receiving fewer benefits. Women who have worked hard to achieve a “powerful” job often lose interest as they age, believing that the burdens and benefits of the position are too great.

“During the pandemic 85 percent of employees worldwide experienced increased burnout and nearly half reported a worse balance between work/life. This has led to Australia’s largest talent movement – the Great Resignation. Women are starting more businesses. Many women are unable to return to the industries in which they previously worked, so they have turned to their passions instead.

The UNSW New Wave Program is a female led startup program that addresses the underrepresentation women have in entrepreneurship. It empowers UNSW staff, students and alumni who identify themselves as women, with the knowledge, skills and networks they need to launch startups that tackle real-world issues. The number of women who are interested in participating in the program has increased dramatically, which is a sign that more females want to follow their entrepreneurial dreams.

Recent changes in the startup scene have encouraged female entrepreneurs. Please give me examples.

Kristen : “Entrepreneurship is a gender-equality issue and women’s involvement has been extremely low for far too long. Women’s participation in the startup sector is up by 3 percent in the past 20 years. But there is still much to be done to achieve parity.

“Access to financing can be a problem. It is frustrating to watch women-led startup companies take up to nine months longer to get funding than their male counterparts. Angel investors and VC firms are typically male-led, and as a result only 5.2 percent of global VC financing in 2020 was allocated to female-led startups. COVID aggregates this data to show that women simply do not have the same access to social equity as men.

“Yet businesses founded by women generate twice as much revenue per dollar invested as those founded by men.” We are developing more programs that focus on female entrepreneurs and we have created the UNSW New Wave program. By 2025, we want to help 500 more women become entrepreneurs. We would like to see that number 10 times as we strive to level the playing field for startups and empower more women.

What advice would you give to women who are experiencing burnout and are thinking of starting their own business but have not yet done so?

Kristen : “Go for it, you won’t know until you try!” Burnout can be treated by changing your work focus to something that you are passionate about. We support women of all backgrounds and circumstances at UNSW New Wave to pursue new careers. To date, we’ve helped over 400 women and 150 startup companies. We aim to assist at least 500 more by 2025. Our vision is to empower more women with the knowledge, skills and abilities to lead global tech companies and startups that will shape our future post-pandemic.

“Take Melanie Perkins, CEO and Founder of Canva as an example of what is possible for women who step up to a leadership role in a startup. The COVID-19 recovery plan in Australia relies on encouraging more women to become entrepreneurs. According to reports, our global GDP is expected to increase by $5 trillion and in Australia by 10% if more women start businesses. So, my advice to you would be not to let the fear of failure stop you. Fear is natural but the power of overcoming it is incredible!

What is your best advice for female entrepreneurs who are just starting out?

Kristen : “Don’t go it alone. There are many women-led programs that support female entrepreneurs. You’ll learn from and be inspired by industry leaders and mentors. You will also have access to unmatched support and advice.

Cindi Shaw, winner of the UNSW New Wave cohort 9, is a good example. She applied for tourism jobs as COVID struck. Cindi was struggling to find work in the tourism industry. She turned to her dream idea, toGet. ToGet, an online marketplace connecting local small businesses and local consumers, is now operational.

“Cindi is convinced that she would not be where she was today without the 75 other inspiring women who were part of the program.”

Cindi : “I have experienced many other benefits from the program, including the facilitation of authentic relationships and networks. This is especially true with mentors of all genders and other inspiring participants. Being surrounded by passionate entrepreneurs who are committed to solving real problems and having a supportive network reinforces the importance of lifelong learning.”