Issue 162 — March 8, 2021
This March 8 is an International Women’s Day like no other.
Let’s first take a moment to recognize the millions globally who have suffered illness and those who have died from Covid-19.
The day we now celebrate with flowers and tributes to the advances women have made began in 1909 as a radical call by women in the Socialist Party of America for workers’ rights and women’s rights — both very radical notions at the time. This included safe workplaces and efforts to prevent sexual assault and violence in war zones and elsewhere. Sound familiar? Not really so very radical is it?
But in today’s COVID-19-ravaged world, the pandemic reminds us that borders are mere figments of our imagination and that the tallest wall can’t prevent the smallest virus from crossing. It teaches us that we are all more connected than we imagined.
As the Dalai Lama said, “The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us how interdependent we are: what happens to one person can soon affect many others.”
From all reports, even for those of us that have been spared the disease, the picture is grim. I am privileged this year to give speeches to companies as diverse as Epredia and Neuberger Berman, bioscience and finance respectively. In 1909, women might have been astounded that there are so many women working in professional roles in those sectors.
So I am not in any way implying that there has been no progress. Still, as I prepared for those speeches, I had to sum up the current situation realistically:
- Economic disruption has disproportionately burdened women globally with even more unpaid care than they were already doing and pushed many women out of hard-won paid work opportunities. These disruptions fall even harder on women of color and poor women in emerging economies around the world.
- Left unchecked, the situation will negatively impact global GDP growth.
- Policy-makers in both public and private sectors must act now to close the gender gap. In the words of this year’s IWD theme, we must “choose to challenge” preexisting norms.
- I suggest the radical solution is to put women at the center of the recovery. In fact I made a hashtag out of it. I encourage you to tweet it out today and until it becomes an accepted affirmation. Yes #putwomenatthecenter.
- The pandemic has brought with it a pandemic of mental health issues as a result of the isolation, economic stress, home schooling of children while trying to stay on top of professional responsibilities, and more.
The BBC WorkLife Report sums it up well:
“We’re in the thick of the ‘shecession’. The global economy is now in its worst downturn since the Great Depression. One of the unique aspects of the current recession is the way it’s impacting women: though men are more likely to die of Covid-19, the pandemic’s toll on employment is heavier for women. Unlike other modern recessions, the pandemic recession has led to more job losses among women than among men. While the 1970s marked the start of ‘mancession’ periods in industries like construction, the current ‘shecession’ is heavily affecting sectors like hospitality and retail.
These sectors employ many women and are also vulnerable to lockdown measures. Some effects are already visible. Globally, women’s job losses due to Covid-19 are 1.8 times greater than men’s. In the US, unemployment has intensified the most for the personal care and food service occupations, where women predominate.
It’s not just about lay-offs, however. In a McKinsey and Lean In survey of North American female employees, one in four women said they were thinking about reducing or leaving paid work due to the pandemic, citing company inflexibility, caring responsibilities and stress…while 8% of surveyed mothers had thought about going from full- to part-time work, only 2% of fathers had.”
The article quotes Ariane Hegewisch, Institute for Women’s Policy Research: “The real danger at the moment is that people are starting to associate women with childcare more strongly than before.” Some have even cheered that women might go back to the barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen days that we have struggled so hard to overcome.
The unfinished business of IWD 2021 requires us to take the radical step to #putwomenatthecenter of the recovery.
This has never been done before. Indeed, when crises such as wars or economic disruptions occur, it is more usual that women’s needs and aspirations play second fiddle to what are seen as larger social needs.
And there is good news as well as bad news in this pandemic, as there is with any major disruption. For times of chaos and disruption are times when new ideas can permeate previously rigid boundaries of thought and structure. For example, virtual learning is now routine and the previously resisted telemedicine has become standard care that is now appreciated as a money and time saver, not to mention a way to avoid contagion from other patients.
The International Women’s Forum, an organization that I belong to with chapters around the world, has discovered in the pandemic that geography matters far less than we thought. Programs that used to be limited to a local community can now become global. I recently participated in a joint event with the New York and Finland chapters, and unfortunately I missed the wine tasting with the Italy chapter.
Golden Seeds, an angel investing organization that works to rectify the gender gap in financing for entrepreneurs by investing only in women-led start ups, has similarly found that the virtual world allows women in their chapters to network and vet potential enterprises regardless of location and with significant cost savings since people aren’t traveling.
Some women in hardest-hit sectors are taking matters into their own hands, applying the Leadership Power Tool “Carpe the Chaos.”
The story of Rohini Dey, owner of the Chicago restaurant Vermilion, illustrates both the depth of the crisis for her chosen profession and the determination of the now 350 female restauranteurs in major cities around the United States to keep their businesses alive despite mandatory closures and openings that can snap back to closures like bungee cords when COVID spikes. Seventeen percent of restaurants have closed permanently during the past year due to the pandemic.
Dey and her colleagues formed Let’s Talk Womxn. Together they support each other and collaborate on periodic take out or delivery offerings of gourmet meals featuring selections from several of the restaurants.
In order to #putwomenatthecenter of the recovery, it is essential that we rethink caregiving as a shared responsibility and a social good worthy of investment.
This topic will require a commentary of its own, but we’re already seeing solutions emerging that will turn caregiving on its head. While far from equal, by necessity men are already taking on a larger share of childcare, leading to more egalitarian households for example. A group of prominent women have proposed a “Marshall Plan for Moms” that immediately drew fire for putting women back into the box of default caregivers. Instead, we need a full reconceptualization about gender roles in caregiving responsibilities and support systems for moms, dads, and others who care for the young, old, and infirm.
The mental health stresses will similarly have to be addressed head on and in doing so, it is likely that mental health issues will lose their stigma, another positive disruption of the pandemic.
There is much unfinished business on this International Women’s Day 2021 to be sure.
But we humans are infinitely adaptable, innovative, and resilient. I’m betting on us. And I am sure that if we #putwomenatthecenter of the recovery — and there will be a recovery — the future will be a good one.
P.S. I am delighted to invite you to join me when I keynote Annie Groth’s annual Pearls of Wisdom event on March 10th, at 7:30 PM EST. I will be discussing Leadership Through the Years, while Annie (a financial advisor with Commonwealth Financial Group) will discuss Money Through the Years and What to Do. Whether you are 25, 45 or 65…..this evening will offer you imagination and tools to help you no matter the stage of your life.
Make it a fun evening, invite a friend, your sister, your Aunt, your Mom and of course…..Grandma!
Hope to see you there! The registration link is here:
GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of four books, most recently No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.