Covid’s Impact on Women’s Careers.

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Last week I got off the phone with a client who let me know that she had been laid off due to a slowdown at her company as a result of the pandemic.

Surprising? Not really.  Still, it was disappointing.

Then she told me that a total of four people were let go in her department. 

All women.   All pregnant.

This is just one (infuriating) example of the negative impact to women and their careers as a result of this pandemic.  We know that women comprise a majority of primary caregivers and workers in the service industry which has been most impacted by Covid-19.   But even within other industries (tech, finance, and others) a lot of middle manager roles (more often held by women) are the ones being cut.

With the stay-at-home orders adding additional pressure on working mothers, women are spending 15 more hours weekly on domestic labor than men and are twice as likely as men to be responsible for homeschooling.  

The result? More women are considering cutting back on their work hours or leaving the workforce altogether.  Many of course are still trying to ‘do it all’ at the cost of their personal health and wellbeing.  But even if they are able to keep their full time schedules and cut back on sleep in order to get it all done, they will still fall short of being able to go above and beyond on a project, take on extra responsibilities or step up to other initiatives – which down the road will impact their career growth and opportunities for promotion.

As a coach and passionate advocate of helping women rise professionally – I’m afraid that this pandemic is going to take us back a decade and undo the progress that has been made.  The fact is, it’s going to take action by everyone (men included) to step up and prevent this.  If we want to make sure this doesn’t happen, it’s going to take ‘a village’.

So how do we solve for this?  And what can we do?

What YOU need to do:

  • Lean into your BOLDNESS.  One of the advantages of being pushed to your limits is that suddenly there’s neither the time nor the energy to second guess yourself, worry about what others will think and wait for someone else to solve your problem.  It’s time to speak up and ask for what you need.   You can and need to act inspite of the fear. 
  • Get extremely effective with identifying and managing your priorities.  What are tasks/activities that only YOU can do.  Delegate EVERYTHING else.
  • Set clear expectations – with your manager, peers and direct reports.  This should be around the hours you work and are available, project deliverables, deadlines and communication cadence and preference. 
  • BE STRATEGIC.  Clearly identify areas where you can add the most value (based on your skills and experience) and have the greatest impact (Hint: move away from day-to-day tactical tasks and toward setting vision and providing direction).  Suggest solutions/alternatives for tasks that are a lower priority.

Remember, the goal here is not to do it all.  It’s to focus your time, attention and energy on bringing the greatest value.  Focus on progress, not perfection.

What TEAMS and MANAGERS need to do:

  • Lean into that TEAM mentality.  The focus needs to shift away from individual performance to the accomplishments of goals and overall performance as a team.  Individuals that aren’t burdened with additional caregiving responsibilities need to step up and ease the burden of the individuals that do.   If you’re a coworker or direct report, offer to take on tasks that can easily be delegated.  This will not go unrecognized – your loyalty now will pay dividends later.  If you’re a manager, make sure you’re delegating tasks that are well documented and require simple execution to more junior staff (heck, this may even be a great time for creating structure and documenting processes by the same staff).
  • Manage and set REALISTIC expectations for working parents and caregivers.  Traditional 9- 5 work hours (and therefore responses to your questions/emails etc.) is next to impossible for a parent with kids at home.  Be flexible and work with your team members’ schedules.  Get aligned on areas and projects that will have the greatest impact and where the leader/individual can provide the greatest value.  
  • Identify and celebrate the quick wins.  Let’s face it.  Everyone (no matter their situation) is having a hard time with this pandemic.  It’s especially important to take time (even if it’s only a few minutes) to call out and celebrate progress that has been made.  You want to keep motivation and engagement up vs. keeping the pressure up – something that will only lead to burnout.

What LEADERS at the company need to do:

  • Evaluate performance based on circumstance and context.  Smart leaders invest in employees for the long term.  And when the pandemic passes (which it will), you want a team of effective, trusted and loyal employees who will be able to ramp up to 100%.  Top performers that are currently struggling should not be penalized for not delivering the same quantity of work.  Leaders need to partner with them to reduce the focus to a few key projects, demonstrate that you as a company truly care and value great employees and watch their loyalty and engagement grow.
  • Don’t push off promotions.  Unless your company is really struggling (and you’re doing everything to not lay off employees), promote your top performers this year.  Especially this year.
  • Lead by example.  It’s likely you are not at your best either.  It’s especially important as a leader to show vulnerability.  One of the fantastic VP’s that I coach who is also struggling with caregiving for her 3 children takes Wednesday off each week to ‘catch up’.  By doing so, she’s sending a signal to her team acknowledging the challenge and ‘providing permission’ for them to do the same.

While things seem really challenging at this point and you may be feeling pessimistic, it’s important to note that there are things that we can all do that are in our control.  Pause and examine your role and job function from the 10,000 foot level.  Are there possibilities that you may not have considered before?  Can this current environment and pandemic be the impetus (the tipping point) to make the change that you’ve been needing to make? 

It’s the time to adapt and evolve. Let’s do this.

How can I continue to support you? What do you need from me? I want to hear from you at [email protected]

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