The weight of this current environment, from COVID health concerns to the civil protest movement, impacts the fundamental, functional and motivational aspects of employee engagement. Today’s article examines the effects on women in the workplace from COVID-19, and the role of executive leadership
On March 19th of this year, The Atlantic ran an insightful article titled, “The Coronavirus Is a Disaster for Feminism.” Observing that “pandemics affect men and women differently” and that the “looking after” (of the sick, the children out of school, etc.) needed in a pandemic would disproportionately fall on women, the author predicted this pandemic will send “many couples back to the 1950s.” Indeed. And yet, does it have to be this way?
This pause is adversely affecting women, and significantly so. Turning a blind eye to this is toxic positivity, at its worst. And yet, in times of strife, where deconstruction of the norm becomes the norm, leaders rise and determine the direction of tomorrow. In other words, we can use this pivotal time to reset and to reevaluate the entire prior system, rather than fighting for a return to it. Now that we know and understand “working from home” in ways we never did before, how can we restructure the workplace to increase opportunities for women? What core values do senior leaders, those with control to effect meaningful change, rely on to begin this work? How does one rise to the occasion of reshaping the past?
Transparency and De-Stigmatization of Reality
One of the best example of senior leadership that I’ve seen is Roxy Bargoz, General Counsel of Avant and mother of two, who outright told me she uses her seniority to “normalize the juggle of work and kids” by being transparent about “the noise and chaos happening” all around her. Ms. Bargoz represents that class of female executives who are trailblazers in the ways they de-stigmatize motherhood in the workplace. She’s phenomenally successful, works hard, meets and exceeds all target, but refuses to “set unattainable standards by pretending everything is 100% under control.”
Executives who have enough courage and confidence to match this level of vulnerability adjust the expectations of and for the women in their employ, thus transforming their workplace into the new century.
Don’t Stop at Your Female Employees – Global Flexibility Advances Equity
During a discussion with a high-level female executive in the finance sector, she warned me that “employers should openly adjust expectations for mothers and fathers alike.” She went out of her way to stress the “father” part. How often do we hear from working moms, lamenting that they must be the one to scale back at work and take on the extra “looking after” responsibilities, because their husbands’ jobs are too inflexible?
Do your part to normalize parenting for both genders. We cannot control the world, but as leaders in our institutions, we do have some control within those walls (virtual or otherwise). The tone we set, the choices we allow, and the standards of equity we demand define us, as well as our organizations.
Listen To Your Word Force
For this article, I tasked myself with finding solutions to prevent the inevitable Covid-related collapse of feminism, in 750 words or less! Impossible, if I was doing it alone. But the weight of finding answers is lightened when one realizes she can simply ask the questions first. In other words, before speaking, we first need to listen.
For this piece, I interviewed not only business leaders and executives, but also everyday people. Single moms balancing families and careers. Husbands who simply want to do right by their wives. And everything in between. I asked near two dozen people what they wanted, what would work, and how things should change. I could write another 7,500 words on the responses (subsidizing home offices with dual screens options, minimizing Zoom and sticking with phone calls most of the day to reduce stress, accepting inevitable interruptions, writing off time lost due to child-care limitations on corporate taxes, and so on).
The pressures of these unprecedented times demonstrate the need to pick and choose our battles. The fight for gender equity is at the top of “Battles That Must Be Fought,” but no single leader can singlehandedly know what needs to be done for all in their organization. As Johana Schwartzman, co-founder of Go Blossom Consulting said to me during a recent interview, in periods of severe stress, we should be wary of “analysis paralysis.”
You know what you know. For the rest, ask, and then, even more importantly, listen. Growth-assistance comes from leadership consultants. It also comes from the collective wisdom all around you right now. You need only to tune in.
If your organization needs help navigating the pandemic, Leading Reality columnist, Shermin Kruse would love to hear from you. Send your questions about a reopening plan of action, equipping employees to feel well-prepared, the efficacy and adequacy of your crisis response plan, how to demonstrate you care about your employees’ health and well-being, or how to offer employees the inspiration and motivation they need to innovate in the midst of a disaster.
Please include a bit about your company and whether you prefer identifying information remain confidential. Leading Reality will help you navigate through these challenging times.
Shermin Kruse has nearly two decades of experience working in strategic development and litigation as an attorney for international and Fortune 500 Companies, as well as parallel experience developing innovative fundraising plans, providing operational and leadership consulting, and producing thought-leadership events including TEDx conferences.
In addition, she is an acclaimed author and speaker, a professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law teaching global transactions and leadership courses, as well as founder and director of multiple local and international charities. Shermin is an Iranian immigrant who spent her childhood amidst war and religious oppression.