Are women losing career momentum in this work-from-home world?

A recent article published by In Business magazine called “Working Parents Calling it Quits” shared that a new FlexJobs survey found 40% of working parents had to quit or reduce their hours since the start of the pandemic. It was no surprise when the data highlighted a difference between men and women: Working women still bear the brunt of the responsibility at home.

Unfortunately, that also means that many women who were building momentum in their careers prior to the pandemic are now having to put their focus elsewhere while their male counterparts retain more freedom to pursue career advancement.

What can women — or anyone experiencing this frustrating blip in their careers — do to stay on track with the progress they have made? And how can businesses recognize, encourage, and develop employees who are working toward career growth and advancement?

What employees can do

There are certain challenges that we all face whether we are in the middle of a pandemic or not. Life can be a lot to juggle even in the best of times. The following things have helped me get more done over the years and have become especially important in the last several months:

  • Stay charged and healthy. You cannot give anything your all if you are running on empty. Get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, and eat to fuel your health and ambitions.
  • Manage your time so it doesn’t manage you. This is not unique advice but it is incredibly easy to let this valuable resource slip through your fingers. At the same time every morning, I take the time to plan out my day. It is equally important to plan out your time at home. Turn off technology — especially social media — in order to focus on whatever is your priority at the moment. You will add hours back into your day.
  • Live and work with integrity. Integrity means that your actions should match your words. In short, do what you say you will do. On one hand, that means follow through on your promises. On the other hand, don’t over promise when you know it won’t be possible (or at least, won’t be likely). This one requires some sense of self-awareness. People are usually OK with you saying no; they usually are not OK with you saying yes and then not getting it done.
  • Share your challenges but always come to the table with a solution. It is totally acceptable to let your supervisor know that something is not working for you, but don’t just complain. Come prepared with a solution that could work for all involved.
  • Determine your priorities and focus your energy. I used to volunteer for anything and everything — not anymore. Now, I choose the projects that are most important to me and say no to the rest. I make my decisions based on passion and priority rather than obligation.
  • Create your own community of support. Find a group of like-minded people — a group of women is even better — who share your goals for career development and advancement. There is nothing quite like a sense of belonging where others just “get you.” In addition to a group of colleagues you like and trust, make an effort to identify women you respect and would like to model your career after. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone you think is “out of your league.” Almost always, people are honored you see them that way and are happy to share a little advice. Mentoring relationships like this can be invaluable.
  • Adopt a global perspective. With everyone working in separate locations (at home), it is easy to get tunnel vision and only focus on your own little bubble of the world. Instead, force yourself to think about how everything is interconnected and how your work affects your co-workers and all the other departments. Keeping an eye on the big picture will help you stand out as a leader, particularly at a time when others might be stuck in their own bubble.
  • Use your strengths to your advantage. Many of the characteristics that are considered typically female can be your strongest asset right now. With everyone feeling so isolated, your compassion (asking how others are doing) and your willingness to be vulnerable (sharing the ups and downs of your own experience) will help you connect with your colleagues at a deeper level.

What businesses can do

Businesses can only benefit from keeping their best employees engaged and motivated. Consider the following:

  • Acknowledge the current challenges. Everyone is juggling so much right now. It’s unrealistic to expect all aspects of business to continue uninterrupted or without adaptations. Let your workers know that you are not blind to the difficulties we all — including yourself — are facing and encourage open discussions or solicit ideas for best practices. Then share what’s working for some to offer guidance and encouragement.
  • Be open to flexible schedules. The world offers the technology and the mindset to support flexibility right now. Jump on the bandwagon.
  • Do not make assumptions about what people can handle. It’s human nature to assess someone else’s situation and make an assumption based on your own capabilities and priorities. When I was pregnant with my daughter, many people assumed I would want to scale back. They were wrong! My goals and my circumstances enabled me to do just the opposite. Continue to offer opportunities to women without reservation and let them decide what works and what they want for themselves.
  • Ask about goals regularly. This is really just another way of saying “Don’t assume.” Instead, find out from your employees what they want and then help them get there.

Let your light shine

Whether you are in over your head or starting to get things figured out from home, you can feel confident in the fact that there are things you can do to keep your career on track. Pick one or two pieces of advice and start there. In truth, while circumstances are not ideal for anyone, showing your creative problem-solving skills, taking initiative, and creating a strong professional network to connect and find support, you may actually shine brighter than ever before.

Sue Loken is senior vice president-chief financial officer at State Bank of Cross Plains. She serves on the bank’s executive leadership team and is committed to mentoring other women in their rise to the top.

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