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Women Business Owners Road to Recovery Panel Discussion

7 Minute Read

The coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3.8 million women lost their jobs between February 2020 and June 2021, and a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that even when men’s employment numbers went up to just 9 percent below pre-recession levels, women’s remained 20 percent below pre-recession levels.

Women who own and operate small businesses were not exempt from challenges brought on by the pandemic. Between stay-at-home orders, forced closures, changing policies and safety protocols, on top of the realities of taking the lead in managing household and family responsibilities, women business owners were tested unlike ever before.

With these important issues in mind, Union Bank recently hosted a virtual panel discussion focused on the road to recovery for women-owned businesses to address some of the unique challenges women business owners face and discuss solutions and practical advice to help them rebound from a year unlike any other.

Panelists on the Women Business Owners panel discussion

Event host Todd Hollander, Head of Small Business and Business Banking for Union Bank, highlighted the urgent need for the discussion.

“We need to support women small business owners. And not just because it feels like the right thing to do. This is an economic imperative. We will not have a thriving economy if women are not active, successful participants in it,” Hollander said.

The Union Bank California Small Business Mid-Year Mindshift 2021 Survey conducted earlier this year further informed the discussion. The survey found:

  • Women reported significantly higher revenue losses for their small businesses. Women-owned small businesses saw a median revenue loss of 50 percent while men-owned businesses only saw a loss of 35 percent.
  • Women small business owners were unable to invest in their businesses as much as their male counterparts. On average, women SBOs invested only $17,000 in COVID-19 adjustments, compared to the $38,000 spent by male owners.
  • And yet, women remain just as optimistic about the future as men business owners

The panel zeroed in on common experiences and challenges from women with diverse backgrounds in a variety of industries.

Panelist Elizabeth P. Availa, General Manager of Panchita’s Bakery

The discussion was moderated by Devon Barrack, Small Business Program Manager for Union Bank. The panel featured California small business owners Elizabeth P. Avila, General Manager of Panchita’s Bakery; Tanya Ellis-Christensen, owner of Seven, a Signature Salon, as well as Donna DeBerry, President and CEO of the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce; Betsy Brennan, President and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership; and Omar Salah, Head of Small Business Banking for Union Bank. 

Panelists on the Women Business Owners panel discussion

“What these women have each been through over the last 16 months is remarkable, but their resiliency is what really struck me,” Barrack said. “No matter the challenge or obstacle sent their way, they figured out how to pivot and adapt to keep their businesses afloat. I think the audience gained some great insights that will help them in their own journeys which was why we wanted to convene this conversation.”

The full 90-minute event can be viewed here.

Some highlights from the discussion:

  • Creativity - Women business owners on the panel shared how they found creative solutions during the pandemic that not only helped their business stay open – but inspired new products, processes, and opportunities that they will incorporate beyond the pandemic. “I never knew I was so creative,” admitted Tanya Ellis-Christensen, owner of Seven, a Signature Salon.

  • Resources - Women business owners are hungry for resources, from information to financial support to networking with other business owners, and there is plenty of help available. “Information is transformation,” said Donna DeBerry, President and CEO of the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce, who highlighted just a few of the resources women business owners can take advantage of. She encouraged all women business owners to network, ask questions, and tap what is available to them.

  • Employees - These business owners learned that communicating with employees about new hours, new ways of working, how they can be supported is more critical than ever. In a challenging labor market, employees are changing careers, choosing to stay unemployed, or not wanting to work the same, making attracting and keeping employees difficult. “We learned that we need to invest in the employees we have and listen to their needs,” shared Elizabeth Avila, General Manager of Panchita’s Bakery.

  • Diversity - The pandemic put a spotlight on the importance of leveraging a diverse workforce. Diversity of thought, experience, culture, and having a workforce that “looks like” their community will continue to help women-owned businesses drive profitability, growth, and innovation.

  • Union Bank support - Omar Salah, Head of Small Business Banking for Union Bank, highlighted ways the bank supports women business owners with programs like diversity lending and partnering to provide resources. He encourages everyone to shop, dine at and support women-owned businesses and restaurants.

Resources discussed during the panel:

For more information

May 2021 California Small Business Mid-Year Mindshift Survey results, and press release

November 2020 Small Business Holiday Spending Survey results, and press release

October 2020 Small Business Mindshift Survey results, and press release

Video of Dishing On: Road to Recovery for Restaurants in L.A. panel discussion

Replay available here: Road to recovery for Women-Owned Businesses (


Written by Erik Battenberg