Women are 1.3-times more likely than men to have considered stepping out of the workforce or slowing down their careers, particularly mothers, senior women, and Black women.
In the worst case scenario, if women leave the workforce at the rates they have suggested, Corporate America could lose more than 2 million women in the workforce, including more than 100,000 women in senior leadership roles in the short term, according to the McKinsey-LeanIn Women in the Workplace study released in late-September.
The Thomson Reuters Institute sat down with women from varying backgrounds to get their take on how they are managing the extra demands from the COVID-19 pandemic and that of their teams. These leaders collectively were dealing with intense challenges outside of work in addition to maintaining productivity and providing emotional support to their direct reports. Some challenges these women discussed were divorce, caring for elderly parents with significant health issues, and distance learning requirements for their children.
Self-advocacy for increased work flexibility
Many women say they are finding it difficult to gain support for increased flexibility to manage their work demands and virtual learning for their children. To address the challenge of how to advocate for oneself in this area, use allies who are experiencing similar challenges, several of the women we spoke to said, adding that you can enlist them in your approach to Human Resources or senior leadership on this issue. Indeed, there is power in numbers.
Michelle Vetovis, Operations Control Leader at Fidelity, says usually there are three underlying themes involved in advocating for yourself: i) fear; ii) misunderstanding; and iii) a lack of awareness. Fear should be tacked first, Vetovis advises. For example, you should ask yourself what are the specifics of your request for flexibility? Where is the work to be done? And at what times will it get done? At the end of the day, most leaders said they believe that if the client is happy, how and when the work is done should not matter.
Another tip offered is to proactively communicate progress and status of key matters and cases to key stakeholders consistently. Also, you shouldn’t hesitate to overcommunicate to assure those around you that the work is getting done and the client is happy, especially before making the request.
Helping teams deal with COVID-19 challenges
Paula Davis-Laack, Founder of the Stress & Resilience Institute, describes the need for humble curiosity, meaning that managers need to learn about their direct reports on a personal level and not assume they know what the direct report wants or needs, especially in the context of the pandemic. Leaders should also show of vulnerability and humanity, especially in response to the extra level of stress and burn-out from fear of losing your job, and the extra layer of complexity in maintaining work productivity, distance learning demands of children, and caring for family members who may be at high risk for COVID-19.
Indeed, leaders are saying they are spending an inordinate amount of time helping members of their teams deal with nervousness about returning to the office before they are ready.
Vetovis acknowledged it is something that she deals with daily. “My job is help them figure out what success looks like, what it means for them, and to help them figure out the schedule and flexibility they need,” she explains. “My role is to push back against those who aren’t providing the flexibility to those struggling with returning to the office.”
Further, team members who are addressing extra challenges should be given “the grace and the space to get their work done in a way that works for them,” says Adriannette Williams, Managing Attorney of Regional Conflict Counsel in Tampa, Florida.
Vetovis agrees, suggesting bringing some fun to the team, such as virtual karaoke, and encourage team members to take frequent breaks and use paid time off to recharge.
Silver linings during pandemic provide relief
Several women spoke about the benefits of having more time with their children, being forced to let go of their ideal of perfection, and allowing themselves permission to embrace humanity as a leader. In addition, being relieved of professional travel obligations is another silver-lining benefit, the women leaders say.
Women leaders say they are also accomplishing life-long goals during the pandemic shut-down. For example, Davis-Laack sys she finished writing her first book, and Williams notes that she harnessed the emotional toll of the growing movement for racial justice by working on media training with a family member of a recent victim of violence. In addition, she says she appreciates the double benefit of being able to care for her nieces and nephews in order to give her siblings a break while staving off her own loneliness — something that nearly 50% of Americans surveyed said they had experienced even before the pandemic.
To deal with today’s tumultuous times, Vetovis offers her own sage advice: “I am living with gratitude and simply looking for harmony.” Indeed, that is a good definition of success during these crazy times.