What do the changes coming out of the pandemic mean for the woman in the workforce of tomorrow? And what does it mean for those companies that need their talent to re-ignite their companies—even for those who grew famously during the pandemic? On the other hand, what does it mean for women who learned a lot about how working remotely can be very good, or bad, for their jobs, their careers, and their family life?
These are unprecedented times, as we are being told.
More than 1.3 million of the 2.5 million women who lost their jobs in the pandemic “shecession” have not gone back into the workforce, at least as of June 2021. Before the pandemic, women represented over 50% of the U.S. labor force. And, they owned over 40% of the businesses; 12 millions of them.
While 10 million of those were solopreneurs and half of those were not making more than $10,000 a year in income, for many women work or their business was not a “career” with purpose, but a job for an income; a life-support job. Now they have to make some choices—find jobs that enable them to work their way, however they might be, or re-set themselves into a workplace designed for a prior time when commuting and working in a workspace was the expected norm.
The big question is what does each woman want from her job or career—and what does her organization need from her? These are very personal and professional questions.
If it is just a job and tasks to get done, and she can be more productive without commuting, worrying about getting kids to sport activities or helping with their schoolwork, then remote work might be just perfect. The unintended consequences or even the intended consequences might be worth the trade-off. Those consequences could include not being included in casual conversations about a client project, not being part of a new team to work on a new product launch, being forgotten when it comes time for reviews and raises, or any number of other things that can happen when you are literally out of sight and out of mind for those who are leading the company—unless they have created an intentional culture that is going to allow you to work remotely and still be a vital part of the team. That could, in fact, be the type of culture that your organization creates, and you could benefit from the shared set of values where “getting the work done” was more important than socializing to build a more engaged organization.
On the other hand, if you view this as an important part of your career development, you are going to have to carefully design how you will not just get work done but how you will build your network, create a reputation, and foster your own way to move up the corporate ladder, or even develop a consulting practice or other business of your own. Several women I know did just that—working on their career growth while setting up a side-business around their future consulting practice that they wanted to develop. They were making choices that might be possible if they could work remotely. They had almost become “consultant-like” within the company in which they were employed. It worked well for them, and the company seemed to be getting what they wanted from her talent and skills.
The third track is one where you begin to cultivate a truly hybrid workstyle. You have realized that to sustain your role in the company, you need to be in the physical space, that office, and participate in the office culture often enough to be seen and heard. Your independence has credentialed you as someone who can get a job done and now it is time to show them that you also know how to engage and stay a part of the team. One woman reminded me that she used to do that before the pandemic, and no one ever even noticed. Her firm allowed her to work remotely. It was previously seen as a benefit. Now she realized that the benefit she had to utilize was coming back into the office and re-developing relationships with colleagues and her superiors. Yet she also found herself happily using her new-found freedom to work where she wanted and when it served her life, and her career.
One last word of wisdom is that humans are herd animals, and we watch each other carefully to see what is accepted and expected. To thrive in the new normal, watch and listen to your colleagues. Look at who is following whom. Don’t be too far outside the new norms or others will happily delete you and you will find yourself without a team or a job, much less a career -- unless that is really what you want for your “future job.”