The #1 post-Covid Challenge for Professional Women Article

22 Jul 2021

The #1 post-Covid Challenge for Professional Women

The pandemic continues to have a devastating effect on the poorest and most fragile parts of the global population, but it is also a personal tragedy for many and a major disruption for everybody, even those in the most privileged situations.

How disruptions specifically affect the working population varies in different sectors and professions, but it always creates stress and fatigue; in the face of reduced commuting time, working schedules have become longer (especially in the critical health sectors) and much more tiring (screen-time fatigue!).

The pandemic disruptions also appear to affect women more than men.

Why? Some surveys (e.g. BGC) point at the increased share of domestic chores that falls disproportionately more onto women, on top of already longer working hours. Another factor, highlighted by a recent Deloitte Study (Europe and US), points at the increased work pressure, linked to more demands and controls, expectations of long hours / always being available, even some micro-aggressions and exclusion from key decisions.

A majority of women believe that their male counterparts are not under the same pressure. It is hard to discern what is real and what is perceived – unconscious biases might determine our perception and behavior; but the main concern from this study is that two-thirds of working women believe that the pandemic will slow down their future career. The risk is that this belief can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and sabotage their actual chances of resuming a fulfilling career progression.

“I think that social isolation plays a major role in creating this pessimistic outlook”, tells Social Psychologist Prognya Ghosh “and it is the #1 challenge that women are facing. Women already tend to spend limited leisure time within a limited circle of family and close friends/colleagues, while men often allow themselves more leisure time and invest a good chunk of it in large professional networks. In times of pandemic, when ‘me-time’ opportunities shrink and social distancing limits contacts, things get worse for women, while men often have other professionals they can call for a chat, a thought exchange or a tip.”

Professional women, especially those at senior levels in business corporations are currently the ones who most suffer in the current situation. A McKinsey study (Sept. 2020) shows how 55% of women in senior positions feel exhausted and 40% feel pressured to work more, compared to respectively 40% and 30% of senior-level men.

What can be done to help Professional Women overcome this debilitating challenge? Innovative Grooa Leadership Academy founder, Laura Lozza has one main suggestion: “Professional Networking is Key, especially now. Some women still hesitate to invest time in networking, thinking that they already have a full schedule. But it is a vicious circle. We need to take time to hear from others and put things in perspective. We often hear of how much we need to train and groom our bodies in lock-down, but we also need to take care of our minds. I encourage all professional women to explore and invest time in joining a networking membership.”

It sounds counter-intuitive: do we really want to add networking (more virtual meetings!) to the already overfilled schedule of exhausted professional women?

“It is absolutely counter-intuitive’, confirms Laura Lozza, “but let me give you an example. When I was a corporate senior-level executive myself, there were very few of us, international women in a male- and single-culture dominated company. We told the CEO that our business would not succeed unless we unleashed all the talents we had, women and internationals; they were mostly invisible, overworked and underappreciated. We launched many initiatives, on top of our regular jobs; we got very busy. One of the most successful initiatives was the creation of professional networks, also inviting other women from other companies. Five years later the succession plan pipeline was filled with diversity. What we learned was that we all started to work better; organizers and participants, we were investing additional time in these initiatives, but we gained energy, support and perspective, so we were better able to choose and own our choices, to prioritize demands and design our own mandate. That is why I started LIS Woman, a Networking and Learning Membership for International Businesswomen who are or aspire to be at executive/board levels; while it is by-invitation only, we accept and evaluate nominations (laura@grooa.com). “We want to be sure to keep the level of exchanges really useful, high quality … and fun. We also hope to have a LIS Woman in-person event at our Dutch hub in the Eindhoven area, as soon as feasible.”

It sounds like it is definitely worthwhile for Professional Women to network more. As Wall Street Guru Sallie Krawcheck used to say: “Networking is the #1 unwritten rule of success.”

While it has only been a few months since the launch of LIS Woman, there is already a buzz about the difference being made in the lives of the women inspiring each other. Besides monthly guest speakers from an impressive roster of highly successful women (ranging from a university rector to vice presidents of major corporations to entrepreneurs), the mastermind groups offer a confidential safe space for the members to discuss challenges they face, with women who have faced similar situations and have valuable suggestions and feedback to offer. Comments such as ‘I come here to have clarity. I feel I am sitting in a pool of wisdom.’ and ‘There is such experience and power in this group!’ are commonly heard in the weekly online meetings.

The vast majority of the women have prioritized the weekly LIS Woman meeting in their agenda, because it is ‘their own bubble’; a moment that is helping them to be more resourceful despite a very busy agenda. This feeling of ‘time for me’ is reinforced at the end of each session because it is an interactive program that is made with the women and for the women.

The peer-to-peer mentoring (during the mastermind sessions) brings creative insights, ideas, new perspectives to the person who raised her concern, without any judgement. The women are grateful to be listened to, to be able to bring their issue to the group and get constructive feedback, to be part of a group where they can be authentically themselves and speak up.

Marie-Pascale Sire, Strategy & Transformation Director Western Europe, Mondelez says,

“Personally, I am amazed by how fast the participants considered the LIS Woman group to be ‘a safe place’ to be able to bring their stories/their questions with them and share with the rest of the group in a very authentic way. How much trust can do – the women in the group have diverse nationalities, diverse backgrounds and it feels like they have known each other for a long time. The level of cooperation, support, listening and respect is stellar! The diverse backgrounds of the participants brings such a richness. Being based in different places, from different functions, brings so much value in the collaboration.”

Marit Røed Ødegaard, Senior Vice President of People & Culture at Yara Industrial Solutions, says

“I joined LIS because of two main things: I know from experience the value of learning from peers and, having had a long career in many different roles in international business, I hope that I can contribute with insights and experiences that are useful for others. Being a women’s network, LIS provides a safe environment for discussion and learning. The group offers fresh perspectives on key topics, giving me the opportunity to both build on and challenge my own beliefs, and thus expands my mind. I always feel highly energized – and happy! – after our sessions.”

While there continues to be an increase of women in the higher ranks of the corporate world, the progress of women taking their place in the boardrooms and realms of decision making remains frustratingly slow. The championing of women who strive to be recognized in the workplace for their skill, intelligence and wealth of experience by those who have gone through the difficult rise in the ranks is one way to make large ripples of change in the (business) world around us.

Who would you nominate to join the fabulous LIS women? Nominations are accepted for new sessions that start every April and October. Contact Laura Lozza at laura@grooa.com for more information.

By Sharon Chirila with Laura Lozza

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