LOS ANGELES — Life had stalled La Kesha Wash's dream of working in interior design.
More than a decade later, she decided to give it a go — amid a global pandemic that was hammering the economy and shutting businesses.
"I was like OK, you're not getting any younger, so this is the time. If you're going to do it, just do it," said Wash, who quit her job as an employee of the city of Alameda a few months ago to focus on getting her business, Meticulous Designs, off the ground.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected women, with significant numbers laid off, leaving their jobs or reducing work hours to care for children being schooled at home or other family members.
It had another effect too: Women, especially those who had never before started a business, took up entrepreneurship, spurring a wave of first-time business ventures that experts say is a pandemic silver lining worth investing in.
For women who are the primary income earner in their household and whose jobs were affected by the pandemic, taking that leap was a financial necessity. For those who are part of dual-income households, with a greater financial cushion or less spending obligations, the pandemic gave them time to think about what they really wanted to do with their lives.
"The pandemic just created a little more space for people to pursue the things they've been thinking about or wanting to do but didn't have the time or capacity to do when they had to commute to work or sit at a desk or just be in the office," said Hayya Lee-McDonald, chief executive of Next Chapter Property Solutions and founder of the Women Small Business Owners Network group on LinkedIn.
Human resources platform firm Gusto found that 49% of people who started businesses during 2020 were women, up from 27% in recent years, according to a May survey of about 1,500 business owners who used Gusto's software.
The most recent census data on female business owners nationally dates to 2018 so it's difficult to quantify the trend, but many women who run entrepreneurship groups on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook have reported scores of new members, many of whom are first-time business owners.
The Women Business Owners Supporting Women Business Owners group on Facebook had about 1,000 members in November 2019; by August 2020, there were 15,000 and today, there are about 21,000, said Amber Powers, the group's founder and president of Powers Digital Marketing.