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Department ofEconomics


Evidence Review of Women-Led Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) Before, During, and After Covid-19: Examining Barriers and Opportunities

Kevane, Michael, Lakshmi Ratan, Aishwarya and Dhar, Diva

May 2021



This paper reviews the literature on gender dimensions relevant to small and medium enterprises (SME), and provides guidance on developing gender-responsive policies for SME as part of COVID-19 economic recovery plans. The economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated gender gaps among SME and may have undermined several decades of slow progress towards gender equality in SME performance. Historically, women-led SME are associated with lower average profits, smaller size, fewer employees, and possibly higher cost of obtaining firm social capital and engaging in relevant business networks.  Structural and social drivers of these outcomes, such as gendered social norms, sectoral segregation, allocation of care work, women’s mobility, patterns of unequal access to and distribution of assets (including time), skills and behaviors may also limit the responsiveness of women-led SME to new gender-neutral policies and programs put in place to mitigate the global economic downturn caused by the pandemic. In this paper, we review the relevant literature to explain gender gaps in SME participation, growth, performance and profitability, which have been exacerbated by COVID. We present a unifying conceptual framework to take stock of the core dimensions underlying gender differentials in participation in SME and subsequent performance.  We also lay out policy recommendations in the wake of COVID-19 and suggest areas for evidence-based experimentation to guide gender -responsive policies and donor funding for SME.

LSB Research, ECON, Michael Kevane, Working Papers