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Women at the NAWBO conference during the Before Times.
Women at a NAWBO conference during the Before Times.

The National Women’s Business Conference is — to borrow an overused pandemic-related word — pivoting this year.

The annual gathering, hosted by the National Association of Women Business Owners, kicked off Monday with a mix of in-person and virtual panels, activities and keynote talks focused on the challenges women business owners currently face.

There is a session on how to make decisions during times of uncertainty. There are others on shifting marketing strategies, virtual networking, time management and how to access capital in the midst of an economic downturn.

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“It’s also providing support for the stress that women business owners [who are] caregivers and moms are facing,” said Susan Dawson, chair elect of NAWBO and a co-founder of the Chicago-based law firm, Waltz Palmer Dawson. 

Of the 800 conference attendees and members, many described themselves as occupying three roles — business owner, parent and teacher — “with no break in sight,” Dawson said.

Susan Dawson is juggling being a mom, a teacher and a business owner.
Susan Dawson is juggling being a mom, a teacher and a business owner.

She knows firsthand about juggling multiple jobs during the coronavirus pandemic: along with keeping her firm afloat, she has three children who are all taking classes at home.

“I figured out how to hardwire a router from my basement to my office just so that I can get online and do what I need to do for my business,” she said. “Now [my kids] need to be first in line, and I’m last for the Internet, because they have to go to school.”

Her husband, who works in manufacturing, is an essential worker, which means she is at home.

“I’m struggling with being a mom and running a business and being a teacher,” Dawson said.

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Many of the women who signed up for the conference, which lasts through October 1, can likely relate.

In a recent NAWBO survey, 60% of female entrepreneurs said they have seen a decrease in revenue. While owners are faced with the difficult decision to slash salaries, 45% of respondents cut their staff’s salaries by up to 5%, and cut their own salaries by more than 50%, according to the survey.

“The first thing they did was cut their own salaries significantly before they touched their staff’s,” Dawson said.

Still, despite the overwhelming effects of Covid-19 on businesses — especially those run by women and people of color — Dawson said the conference could bring some much-needed support and optimism to female entrepreneurs.

“The conference is giving women business owners an opportunity to say, ‘Look, it’s tough right now, but you need to put yourself first,’” Dawson said. “You need to be with people who understand and get it, and will help and support you.”

NAWBO, started in 1975, is the nation’s largest trade group for women business owners. Last year’s conference was in Florida.

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