Fall is typically a time of back-to-school and new beginnings, but as with every facet of daily life, the pandemic has turned that upside down. While this has been a challenging year for everyone, we know that it has been especially difficult for working moms trying to maintain their careers while caring for their children, and for caregivers looking to return to work in an unstable economy. While there is so much out of our control right now, we know the only way through this is to focus on the things we can.
To learn how women can continue to propel their careers forward without sacrificing the flexibility they may need to take care of their families, Path Forward’s Executive Director Tami Forman interviewed the amazing Fairygodboss Co-founders, CEO Georgene Huang (right) and President Romy Newman (left). Fairygodboss is the largest online career community for women. They provide career connections, jobs, community advice, supportive groups (like ours!), virtual events and hard-to-find intel about how companies treat women.
The three discuss the difficult realities the pandemic has brought upon women and working parents in general, how to know whether a company truly cares about diversity, and where to find optimism in these challenging times.
Tami: There is no shortage of very depressing headlines about how the pandemic has and will continue to impact women’s careers. I think it’s easy for younger women, especially, to get discouraged and have a bleak outlook on the future. What advice do you have for working women who fear that starting a family will jeopardize their careers?
Georgene: There’s never a “perfect” time to start a family, but communication is key to avoiding any setbacks. Create a thorough maternity leave plan and have open conversations about your return-to-work plan and professional goals with your manager to ensure that you’re both on the same page. It’s important to make your expectations clear and receive clear expectations from your manager, and sometimes colleagues, to better keep your career progressing the way you want it to.
Tami: I agree with that and I’d add that having a similar conversation with your partner, if you have one, and really, having many such conversations. People change over time. Research shows that even couples that intend to be egalitarian can slide into gendered roles when children come along. Have honest conversations about your expectations, and continue to have those conversations as circumstances change. Having said that, we know that moms are already more likely to leave the workforce than dads during this pandemic. With “back to school” in September not quite meaning what it used to, many people predict its going to get worse. What advice would you give to a working parent who is just about ready to quit?
Romy: Talk to your manager about what you’re going through. We’re all trying to work through a pandemic so it’s perfectly fine to be honest if you’re not operating at 100%. Be clear and honest about your bandwidth. So many of us are taking on extra responsibilities at home, so it’s important to speak up and let your manager know if you have too much on your plate and need extra time on assignments. If you’re not working flexible hours, discuss that with your manager and see if there’s an alternate way that you can complete assignments on your own time. Your manager doesn’t want to see you quit and will work with you to find a solution.
Tami: Speaking as a manager who doesn’t want anyone on her team to quit, I wholeheartedly endorse that answer! I would also add, again, the idea of engaging your partner, if you have one, in taking on more and having a similar conversation with his or her manager. We need to normalize men, especially, asking for flexibility both to give women the support they need at home and to destigmatize flexibility at work. Following from that theme, how do we set healthy boundaries between work/life now that they are occupying the same physical space? What tips do you have for individuals struggling to manage and share the increased domestic responsibilities with their spouse, partner, kids, roommates, etc.?
Georgene: I am a ruthless prioritizer and rely heavily on my calendar. Building in time to think, or spend time with my kids, and creating a to-do list are a few ways that I try to make sure I’m not only giving myself time to accomplish my work and household responsibilities, but also giving myself time to recharge! Some individuals block off time in their calendars throughout the day to reserve for their kids (lunch, school, homework, etc.), but then work until 9pm while others work a strict 9am-5pm and cut themselves off for family time in the evening. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” model, so find what works for you and stick with it.
Tami: What career advice have you used (or given) most this year?
Romy: Don’t give up and take time for self-care!
Tami: Those are both important! Tell me, how has your definition of self-care changed since the pandemic started?
Romy: I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily changed, but it’s become more difficult to find those moments of self-care than before the pandemic. There aren’t any more work happy hours, and many of us still aren’t able to or don’t feel comfortable going to gyms or salons so you need to be more intentional with how you’re taking care of yourself. Make time to connect with others, schedule virtual coffees and talk with friends. Take walks. Most importantly, learn to forgive yourself. We’re all working and living in a way we never have before, so more than ever, we will not get everything right.
Tami: What are the silver lining takeaways from this year? Would you say there is increased empathy, more remote flexibility, more value placed on childcare, etc?
Romy: Introducing flexible work environments to virtually every company and industry is certainly a silver lining for this year. One of the main explanations for why women don’t advance further in the workplace has been that primary caregivers (who are more often women) have a greater need for remote working and flexible schedules. Now that we all were forced to work remotely for the past few months, it will be interesting to see how this moment changes the way we work for good (and hopefully the new working world will be much more supportive of working parents).
Tami: I agree with all of that and I’d add that we are finally realizing how important school is to making it possible for parents to work. While in the short term we don’t seem, as a society, to be making the right changes there my hope is that after all this is over we can take a hard look at how school is structured and think about how it can better support working families. I’d also point to another upside to this year: the heightened focus on diversity initiatives. While the concept of having a diverse workforce isn’t new, it seems like some companies are scrambling to meet the moment. What are the indicators that a company truly cares about diversity and work-life balance, and is not just paying lip service?
Georgene: Read company reviews! Hearing firsthand from individuals who work or have worked at a company is a great way to get a glimpse of the company’s culture. Of course, things have changed a lot in the past few months so visit the company’s website or careers page; Have they released any information about the gender or racial breakdown of their workforce? Do they promote ERGs and which ones? Have they made any commitments and shown steps of follow-through? Do they work with various diversity organizations (such as Fairygodboss) committed to finding talent in underrepresented groups? These are all great indicators of a company that is going to stand by what they say and promote an inclusive culture.
Tami: Yes to reviews! We love and recommend Fairygodboss for that reason. And I’d echo what you are saying about looking at what they do vs. what they say. If you want to know what a company cares about look at who they hire and what they spend money on. What kinds of accommodations do you think working parents and women in general are looking for when they’re evaluating an organization?
Georgene: We know that women look at the benefits a company offers as well as the level of flexibility in the company when evaluating organizations. While salary is still important, women place high value on their job satisfaction and want to know that more than just their financial needs will be met.
Tami: What tips do you have for navigating the job search during the pandemic? Specifically for those looking to return to work after a break or for someone employed who is looking to make a career change? What do you tell someone who has been part of COVID layoffs ?
Romy: The future is extremely uncertain right now, but please don’t be discouraged! While there are many companies that have put their hiring processes on hold, there are still a lot of companies hiring. When you approach the job search be sure to put an emphasis on your digital presence and virtual networking.
People are spending more time online than ever before, so send thoughtful connections and messages to potential hiring managers or individuals you want to connect with. There are many resources on Fairygodboss about how to pursue positions you’re interested in and can help brush up on virtual interview tips so you can make a great first digital impression.
Tami: How can FGB help women with this process?
Georgene: Fairygodboss is a free resource for individuals and, due to all of our offerings being virtual in nature, we’re glad that we’ve been able to provide some comfort for those struggling right now. We have a robust slate of virtual programming, provide a supportive community where women can seek advice from each other, and we look to highlight positive stories during an otherwise negative time. And with thousands of jobs listed on the site, we’re supporting women looking for new roles and opportunities with employers who are committed to gender equality.
Tami: Again, we are big fans of Fairygodboss for all these reasons – so much great support for women at all stages of their career. Romy, Georgene, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to thoughtfully answer our questions. I know our readers will be inspired, as I am, by your insights.