British Columbia

Female entrepreneurs struggling more than male counterparts during COVID-19, says federal program report 

A recent report by Community Futures Fraser-Fort George says female-led business owners in B.C.'s rural communities often struggle more than their male counterparts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prince George coffee shop operator Kim Hayhurst and Dawson Creek spa owner Jerri Braaten both say the B.C. government's support isn't enough to keep their businesses afloat.

'I'm finding that there's not a ton of support either from our government,' says spa owner

At her seven-month-old coffee and craft shop in Prince George, B.C., Kim Hayhurst says she's ineligible for the B.C. government's grant program that aims to help small and medium-sized businesses through the pandemic. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Women-led businesses are a key part of B.C.'s northern and rural economies, but many female business leaders don't feel they are receiving the support needed to keep them afloat amid COVID-19, according to a recent report by a Prince George-based federal economic program.

Published last month, the report by Community Futures Fraser-Fort George found businesses led by women were struggling more than those run by men when it came to navigating the pandemic.

The report found women reported having more responsibilities to family, and female entrepreneurs were more likely to run businesses that rely on foot traffic, such as small shops and salons.

The vast majority of interviewees reported being impacted by the loss of customers' foot traffic over the past year.

The slow traffic has been particularly tough for Kim Hayhurst, who opened a coffee and craft shop in downtown Prince George last August.

"We signed our lease a week before everyone went into isolation and wound up doing renovations. During that time, it was a ghost town downtown," Hayhurst said to Carolina de Ryk, the host of CBC's Daybreak North, on Monday, International Women's Day.

"When we opened our doors in August, we were able to employ 11, and at that time they were all women. And we are now operating with a staff of three," she said. "They are seeking employment elsewhere because we just can't promise the hours, and so it's definitely a tough go."

Government aid not enough to hire employees back

The Community Futures report says half of businesses interviewed have received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans, but reported the money was only enough to offset lost revenue and new expenses, not enough to hire back laid-off employees.

"I'm finding that there's not a ton of support either from our government. Yes, there's loans, but that doesn't fix or remedy the staffing issue," spa owner Jerri Braaten told Daybreak North

Braaten's spa is located in Dawson Creek, B.C., which is not covered by Community Futures Fraser-Fort George. 

Jerri Braaten, who runs a spa in Dawson Creek, B.C., says the government financial assistance isn't enough for her to hire back the all-female staff that she had to lay off during the height of the pandemic. (Submitted by Jerri Braaten)

In December, the B.C. government eased the eligibility requirements for small and medium-sized businesses applying for funds under its $345 million pandemic recovery grant program. Now businesses have to be 18 months old — instead of three years old previously — in order to be eligible.

But the eased eligibility doesn't help Hayhurst's shop, since it is only seven months old.

"We have had absolutely no support from the government in order to get through this time, so it's been a massive challenge," she said.

According to a new analysis by RBC published last week, nearly 100,000 working-age Canadian women have completely left the workforce since the pandemic started, which means they aren't even trying to get a job any more.

Braaten is calling upon residents of rural communities to support local businesses like hers as much as possible.

"We've heard in the past, pre-pandemic: 'Oh, it's so nice that we have a spa here in Dawson Creek. It's so unique. It's a gem. It's a hidden gem. It's a one of a kind.' If you really love going to the spa and you really love the salon, come support it, because without your support, we can't stay open," she said.

Tap the link below to hear Kim Hayhurst's and Jerri Braaten's interview on Daybreak North:

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With files from Daybreak North, Andrew Kurjata, Canadian Press and Gillian Wheatley