December 20, 2021 by Dede Henley

Opportunity In Difficulty: Take Advantage Of The Pandemic To Move Forward

opportunity-in-difficulty-4x6-sm.jpegPreviously published on Forbes

In April of 2020, I was terribly worried about what was happening to women leaders in the workplace. I wrote an article about the possibility of women being set back to the 1950s. The pandemic forced women to become primary care providers, home schoolteachers and full-time employees, working from home. It seemed like women were taking a hit in the worst of ways. In October of 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, after disproportionately losing jobs during the early shutdown, women were leaving the workforce at nearly four times the rate of men.

But there is some good news! As Albert Einstein famously said, “In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” 

Recent research by Forté, a non-profit focused on advancing women into leadership roles through access to business education, found that the enrollment at more than half of its member schools was more than 40% women, and 10 of the schools’ enrollment was more than 45% women. According to Forté, George Washington School of Business, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and John Hopkins University’s Carey School of Business all reached gender equity this year, the first time three schools ever achieved this milestone.

It seems that some women got busy remaking their careers and enrolled in MBA programs!

What else can we do to continue to support women in this topsy-turvy pandemic world?

Ruchi Bhowmik, EY’s Global Public Policy Vice Chair, suggests, “We can use this moment to push forward on family-focused policies that will help to drive gender equality further, faster.”

Collectively, we must expand access to affordable childcare so that working moms have a safe place to care for their children while they work. Bhowmik points out that in Nordic countries, where governments significantly subsidize the costs of childcare, nearly three-quarters of women are active in the labor force.

We can also create policies in our organizations that support caregivers. In June of 2020, our employees with children at home were stretched to a breaking point. We sent one mom out on a paid leave of absence so she could sort out her home and family life without having to juggle work at the same time. This new policy made sense in so many ways, but we hadn’t thought to create it before. 

Finally, we must continue to push our partners and roommates to share more of the load on the home front. Too many women I coach think they have to do it all themselves. We must interrupt our martyrdom and expect our family to take on more of the household weekly chores. This will provide some relief for women leaders attempting to do it all. 

For example, this past year, I have asked—or more to the point, insisted—that my husband learn to cook. To support his learning in a way that doesn’t involve me rolling my eyes at his lack of basic culinary skill, I signed up for Green Chef to deliver simple, nutritious meals to prepare each week. He can make them in 30 minutes or less, and I can come down the stairs from my office to a decent meal. And he feels proud of his efforts! 

Things were looking pretty bleak, but we have the tools to keep turn this situation around. Let’s continue to hold on to optimism and make the changes that matter for women leaders.


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