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Designed in line with The La Serena Roadmap for Women and Inclusive Growth (2019-2030), the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), APEC Women Connect, and DHgate, China's leading B2B cross-border e-commerce marketplace, have co-released the results of a survey conducted to better understand the latest situation for women in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).
The primary focus of the survey is on the use of digital solutions for women during the COVID-19 pandemic and how society can support women to participate in both digital transformation and economic integration.
The survey reached out to respondents in women-led MSMEs (of which almost 80% hire fewer than 300 employees) across 21 APEC member economies between August and September 2021.
Alongside the "social distancing mandate", the two other major catalysts for respondents to adopt digital tools and services during COVID-19 (such as online education, virtual communication, and e-commerce) were "social responsibility" and "business opportunities".
Seeing the potential influence digitalization can bring, MSMEs, in general, have put digitalization into practice. Nearly 90% of respondents, approximately 50% of whom were female, confirmed seeing digital technology deliver tangible benefits to the MSME they manage, which included "improved productivity", "creation of new revenue sources" and "improved brand awareness".
This finding further proves that digital transformation is helping to mitigate the negative effects of an unprecedented public health crisis and serving as an engine for sustainable economic growth inside APEC economies.
However, women-led MSMEs are still facing challenges with regard to digital transformation and have yet to receive sufficient external support.
Approximately 40% of respondents reported a "limited budget" for adopting digital tools or services, and "talent and workforce" as a challenge. A lack of awareness, and skills or knowledge were two other major constraints, while "low return on investment" was the least cited factor.
According to sex-disaggregated data collected as part of this survey, 63.2% of female respondents referred to a "lack of professional skills" as the top setback, with more than half of women mentioning gender gaps in accessing the Internet and a lack of funding or sponsorship as two other major constraints.
Challenges with utilizing digital solutions also persist for these MSMEs, despite the outbreak of the pandemic, according to this survey. Additionally, most MSMEs haven't received enough external support. When answering the question "who helped you to get access to those digital tools or services since COVID-19 began", 46.3% of female respondents said "myself and employees", while only 11% mentioned the government, and 9% referred to industry organizations.
In fact, nearly 90% of all respondents said they are not paying attention to any specific government departments guiding or supporting the digital transformation in their economy.
These findings highlight the urgency for the public and private sectors to "provide capacity building activities and opportunities for networking, mentoring, and digital skills-building, among other core skills, to increase women's business competencies and encourage their participation in the digital economy and innovation", which is also one of the key action plans listed in The La Serena Roadmap for Women and Inclusive Growth (2019-2030).
A total of 57.3% of female respondents view "financial resources" as a key factor to helping them achieve digital transformation, above the general consensus of 55.3% among all respondents. Meanwhile, 53.7% of women leaders consider "social and business networks" as an enabler, higher than the average of all respondents. Indeed, multiple statistics point to the fact that women leaders actually desire financial resources, social and business networks more than their male compatriots.
These findings echo APEC's call in The La Serena Roadmap for the public and private sector to help ensure that women can access capital and assets, in both local and international markets.
To support business growth, 53.3% of surveyed companies expressed a strong need for training in digital tools and knowledge, while nearly half would like access to a free trial of digital tools and IT equipment. Such access also extends to e-learning platforms for helping their workforce improve skills and competency in order to boost business administration and digitalization in the long term.
These findings signal to the public and private sectors exactly where concrete and collaborative efforts can be made to empower MSMEs in regards to digital transformation.
While empowering women digitally to help them maximize their economic potential is never an easy task in the short term, this survey certainly helps to lead us in the right direction.
Get the complimentary full report of this research here: