Battle of the sexes“Women are very well suited to a crisis situation, because by nature they lead several lives.” This was the view of Dominique Reiniche, European President of Coca Cola, speaking at the recent Deauville Women’s Forum, which explored the impact of the economic downturn on women in business, and their prospects for 2013. She continued “Of course there is the professional life, the family life with children and logistics and all that, so they are, I would say by definition very flexible, very used to making fast decisions, and also very inclined to reaching consensus and balanced decisions with the husband, children and others.”

Her view is frequently echoed in popular culture: women are good at multi-tasking, women are good at making people reach agreement. It may be true and if so, it may also be true that women leverage these skills in business, but a new study suggests that the economic crisis is taking a heavier personal toll on female entrepreneurs than on men.

Our recent “DNA of an entrepreneur” study, which surveys SMEs in the UK, USA, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, asked respondents to assess the impact of the economic crisis on their personal lives. The most commonly cited effects were increased stress and problems with sleep, and in both cases more women had been hit than men. Among female respondents, 46% reported increased stress compared to 40% for men: 35% of women cited sleep problems compared to 27% for men.  Nearly a quarter of all women (23%) reported more health problems generally compared to 18% for men.

These results may have more significance in that women respondents had a shorter average working week: 40.1 hours compared to 44.9 hours for men. That might reflect Dominique Reiniche’s assumption that female entrepreneurs are juggling business and family life. Interestingly, more men than women in the study reported that the crisis had given them less time for family and close friends: 29% of male respondents agreed with this compared to 24% of women. The crisis may not have affected the work/life balance of female entrepreneurs but perhaps it has made it more strenuous.

The study also suggested some differences in the attitudes and skill sets of male and female entrepreneurs. For example, women seemed to cope better with government regulation. They took an average of 102 minutes each week to deal with it – 4.2% of their average working week, compared to 141 minutes for men – 5.2% of their average working week.

And women might be more effective than men at dealing with lenders and late payers. The study asked respondents to report their success if they had tried to renegotiate terms with their lenders. Nearly four in ten – 38% – of women reported complete success in their renegotiation compared to 29% of men. Among all respondents, 55% of men reported problems with late payments compared with 49% of women.

The study also found that more men than women thought that they were likely to employ more staff in the next twelve months: 19% for men compared to 11% for women. In both cases, the percentage may be too low for the difference to be significant – but just possibly, female entrepreneurs are more focused than men on getting more output from their existing workforces (including themselves in small and one-person businesses) before they take on extra staff.

Although men were more critical than women of government bureaucracy they were more fearful that government would not support small business. Among all respondents, this was their most frequent fear of the future, but it was cited by more men than women: 46% of men compared to 40% for women. By contrast, women were more anxious than men about having enough money to stay in business: 33% of women compared to 26% of men.

However, there was no difference between men and women in their general optimism and their determination to succeed. For both genders, optimists greatly outnumbered pessimists. Among men, 49% reported themselves optimistic about the year ahead against 27% who were pessimistic: among women, 47% were optimists and 28% were pessimists. (The remainder in each case were not sure.) For men and women alike, 30% said that the crisis had made them stronger and more determined to succeed in their business.

So the study suggests some intriguing differences between male and female entrepreneurs and their skill sets and their mentality in coping with economic crisis. But they are as one in their resilience and their belief in their businesses.