BUFFALO, N.Y. — At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congressman Tom Reed's office called together 120 business and community leaders to discuss the issues they face and solutions for an economic recovery.

"I remember the first meeting well. It was a very cold April night and the conversation was very male business oriented," WNY Women's Foundation Executive Director Sheri Scavone said.

Scavone said she struggled to get a word in about things like child care so she bombarded the congressman's office with data. Out of those conversations, a smaller task force was formed to address the issues facing women.

"All of the data and all of the stories show that this virus has had in fact a very disproportional impact on women and particularly, again, our Black and Brown sisters," she said.

Roughly a dozen women took part in that sub-committee. Many owned or led businesses like Jill Knittel, the president and founder of JK Executive Strategies.

"I have a team of all women so we all have a lot that we're juggling and just making sure as an employer that I am allowing them to be where they need to be at any time because of children and families," Knittel said.

Women-owned businesses are often small businesses, like Holly Hubert's Global Security IQ. Hubert said there has been a vital need for tax relief and economic assistance.

"Some of them are the economic impacts to women-owned and minority-owned businesses in terms of businesses that are really going out of business because they can't keep their revenue streams or sustain a workforce," she said.

One of the primary focuses, however, has been keeping women in the workforce. Many have had to drop out or cutback in order to take care of their children and assist with their virtual educations.

The task force said the government needs to emphasize child care and businesses need to reimagine the workplace to make sure they cater to family obligations.

"The reality of it is women need to be in the workforce for themselves and their family but for our economy and for these businesses to go forth," Scavone said.

Reed said the work of the task force has helped him to focus on child care as a key issue in COVID-19 relief legislation.

"These are leaders and so I'm just inspired by their stories, by their leadership roles, but also their frontline input helps me better advocate," he said.