The economic news delivered in mid-January has been, on its surface, bleak for women and work in the US. We continue to lose jobs at a record pace. With women forced to juggle, well, everything, how could this reckoning not arrive at some point? Even simply the fact that kids across the country are still in remote school is reason enough for women to lose full-time opportunities. Job losses are also disproportionately affecting Women of Color who are experiencing an unemployment rate nearing two times pre-pandemic (and sadly against a backdrop of this group as the most prolific small business creators). All of this culminating in a staggering year-over-year figure: 5.4 million jobs lost since February 2020. By women alone.
Of course we have witnessed (and experienced) this career carnage ourselves. So in seeing the signs of what would come, late last year FromAtoSHE teamed with executive coach Tracy Irvine to go deeper and formalize the informal conversations we had been having with colleagues and friends. We queried more than 100 women via a survey (administered online, phone and in person) to better codify our collective feelings about this year ahead. This is what we found:
The Context: The Women
The women we surveyed are friends, acquaintances, colleagues and family. Nearly 59% of respondents are 45-54 years old, with the second closest cohort (29%) 35-44. They live in eight states and two countries. More than 80% are married or in a domestic partnership and 78% have children. These women have also worked for a long time — 63% for more than 20 years and 35% for 10-20 years.
Half of the women we surveyed are still employed; but 40% either lost their jobs or left the workplace. Most of our cohort of friends and contacts work in industries that allow for flexibility and yet a large percentage still found themselves unemployed by the end of 2020.
What we wanted to know was how everyone was feeling. Because we think of ourselves as the emotionally strong sex and yet could we power through a pandemic. Could we see ourselves successful personally and/or career-wise on the other side?
What’s Next? The Good…
While the women we surveyed feel the economic pain of uncertainty, none faced, or are currently, facing the crisis of food insecurity and homelessness that is, and will continue to be, a real and immediate danger for women out of work. Even so, the impact of so many women losing or turning away from jobs, especially after long careers, will impact future opportunities for all women. Because women with deep experience who are exiting long careers leave the next generation without the fighters, leaders, teachers, mentors and business owners to hire them. It could bring down a hierarchy built on years of achievement. And so even seeing a bit of optimism in responses gave us some hope…
Returning to the known & tackling the unknown
More than 66% of the women we surveyed plan to return to the same industry or job (if they have left work). While nearly 20% hoped to start a new career and 15% made plans to start a business. This combined 35% of women changing course could tell us a lot about the future of entrepreneurship. Especially because with these planned changes has come a self-recognition of adaptability: “Even though many women had to leave their jobs this year, we are good at adapting and finding a way back, even if it means changing jobs.” And the feeling that our ability to multitask leaves us well positioned: “The world is shifting and who better to multi task than women, who do it all the time anyway.”
Entrepreneurial by design or out of necessity
While women may be turning to entrepreneurship in greater numbers post Covid-19, their growing ranks were swelling well before 2020. Out of all businesses, the percentage share that are women-owned in the United States grew from 4.6% in 1972 to an impressive 42% by 2019. And in the past five years, this growth has been double that of all businesses. Which, in theory, should mean that women have strong networks, more tools and an easier path to going at it alone than ever before. And, yet, there is always a ‘but’… but we’ll save that for after the rest of the positives from our survey…
Stepping up to change the world
A number of those we surveyed gave serious consideration to running for office and getting more involved overall in their communities. A quarter has thought about running for office and half planned to volunteer more. Nearly half also considered furthering their education by hitting the books again. Women are legendary in their ability to take tough times, tragic times, world-changing times…and create meaningful change. With our first female vice president sworn into office this month, hopefully these kernels of exploration see no obstacle to taking root and growing.
…And The Not-So-Great for Women and Work
Women are used to feeling that there are mountains to climb. But this has tested us on every level. And it bears out in what we heard from our survey respondents: “Being out of the workforce for an extended period of time during the pandemic will negatively affect women’s earning potential and career opportunities.” Because women feel marginalized on a good day, the drag of the current situation can feel endless. “It’s never been easy for mothers returning to the workforce no matter the industry.” And as long as children are not in school or women need to worry about all of those they care for (e.g., elderly parents, etc.) how can we focus on work?
The entrepreneurship conundrum
There are a lot of reasons to think that entrepreneurship born of this pandemic could provide opportunity far into the future. And yet there is so much vulnerability and fragility built into the opportunity. For all the gains that women have made in launching and growing businesses the comparatively low revenue intake by all women makes it hard to get to the other side of today’s reality. And our greatest new business creators — Women of Color — were growing pre-pandemic at double the rate of all women, but brining in less than a third of the revenue on a good day. Without an economic cushion these gains will evaporate. We need to help the most successful of business creators to be more resilient economically…with our business and with investment.
2021 Will be a Watershed Year
As we sit today with our own mixed feelings as a new president takes office in the aftermath of the Capital insurrection…we consider how recovery can be such a moveable target. Respondents, as we noted, are split about whether optimism is warranted this year. For the pessimistic, it’s primarily about exhaustion. And an inability to see an end in sight. For those who are optimistic it’s more about how women have proven themselves as the nimble and opportunistic creatures we know ourselves to be.
As women we are thoughtful and pragmatic, so no review of a survey would be complete without suggestions to forge ahead. And coach Tracy is more than up to the task. The funny thing though is that most of what we suggest women know they need to do. But that’s the point: we don’t often heed our own advice.
Tracy is also available to chat if you need extra support or would like to consider a coaching session. You can reach her via her website.
Advocate for yourself
In my coaching I hear how most women feel that advocating for themselves/speaking up is viewed as pushy, uncomfortable, sales-y. And they don’t know how because they see others doing it so easily. They feel like they should work hard and let the work speak for itself. Not the case. You have to advocate for yourself. Especially now with the extraordinary pull of extra responsibility on women’s shoulders — from home and kids to elderly parents and so on. If you don’t advocate for yourself, it will be hard to find your footing when times change. So lose the guilt and practice fighting for yourself.
This should never be the only thing you do when you are looking for work. But it should be the think you do all the time. And especially during this pandemic lull. Things will come back. Hopefully stronger. So don’t lose the opportunity by overlooking the power of networking. ICIM Modern Job Seeker Report states that 60% of employees believe referrals bring in candidates that are the best fit for a company — so that alone should get you to reach out. Determine who you want to target and why. And don’t let our stay-at-home life be an excuse: Zoom calls, phone calls, of course, are still available to you.
Watch for burnout
This is probably the number one comment we received via the survey: “I am burned out.” Burnout is real and toxic. Women believe it’s their responsibility to shoulder the burden of work and home. So in some respects it’s the most debilitating outcome of the pandemic and, yet, you do have control. Stop saying ‘yes’ and focus on what you need to do right now. Everything else is noise. Of course this is one of the reasons women are leaving (if they can) or scaling down work. They know what is important right now and holding firm on priorities.
Seek out what is available to you and what you need now. Hire a coach if you want to change careers. A therapist if you need emotional support. Use online services for grocery delivery instead of going to the market. See mentors or a mastermind group if you are starting a business. Find childcare solutions that work for you. So many women believe they have to shoulder most of the burden. And, again, while much is out of our control right now, try to find what is within your grasp to change. And sometimes it is as simple as both recognizing and verbalizing that you need help.
Finally, it seems so obvious. So simple. And yet women forget to take care of themselves (and this isn’t to be confused with advocating for yourself which is also necessary). It’s the little things that can help guide us through the tough times. Take breaks, stop doom-scrolling, surround yourself with people who lift you up, not tear you down. Go for a walk. Take a bubble bath. Laugh. Really simple wholesome kind efforts. If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s how important the little things are that we may have take for granted before. So, that along is something to hold on to.