It’s been a tough year for women, but there’s opportunity in the air.
March is Women’s History Month. A lot has changed since last March—when the month set aside to celebrate women’s history kicked off a historically tough year for women in the workplace.
We’ve all seen the stats. Since last March (when the workplace effects of the pandemic started), 2.3 million women left the workplace. Female participation in the workforce dropped to 57%—the steepest continuous decline since World War II and the lowest level since 1988.1,2 And even for those of us with good jobs, it’s been a challenging year (to say the least).
On the surface, things seem bleak.
But, disruption begets opportunity.
Among the rubble of the last 12 months, a workplace revolution has been steadily gaining steam. People are challenging long-held assumptions about how workplaces should operate and what role work should play in their lives. They’re creating alternatives to the rat race, the open-concept offices, and a 40-hour week that never actually ends at 40 hours.
Among the rubble of the last 12 months, a workplace revolution has been steadily gaining steam.
We now have proof that people can still perform at a high level without any of the traditional constraints of American business. For example, we know it’s possible for some people to thrive in home offices or during hours structured around childcare needs.
The gates of possibility have burst open. Let’s stride through them.
It’s time to define what “good” means to you.
Now more than ever, all of us (men and women) have the ability to define what kind of work works for us.
So, as a professional, ask yourself what a rewarding career and life looks like. The answer is different for everyone, so explore all the options. Does your work fit the life you want to live? Are you doing work that makes you happy? Could you acquire new skills and do something different? Decide where you want to be and start thinking about how to get there.
And, if you’re a manager or leader, ask yourself how you can accommodate alternative work arrangements. Instead of focusing on compliance and control, lead with trust and empowerment. Start from the perspective that anything is possible and see what happens.
Start from the perspective that anything is possible and see what happens
This is especially good news for women.
Workplace flexibility has always been a top priority for women, but often flexibility meant giving up career mobility.3 Today, we have the opportunity to make flexibility (and other alternative career choices) a valid career option—not just a career tradeoff.
When women have a known advocate in the workplace, many are more likely to stay in the workforce longer AND continue to be promoted and take on more responsibility.4 If we’re all advocates regardless of gender or rank, think about the empowerment we could create.
Starting now, let’s be more intentional about empowering women and the careers they want to create. Behind every successful woman, there is a village of supporters. We can each:
- Be a villager—provide encouragement, advice, and assistance to women at work and in life.
- When you’re at work, be an advocate—listen to women’s concerns, elevate their voices, and acknowledge their contributions.
As a leader, be a pathfinder—inspire women (and everyone) to find a path where they’re successful at work and fulfilled in life.
Since it’s Women’s History Month, let’s make some history.
As March 2021 ushers in the spring, we can usher in a new era for women in the workplace. If we have the courage to challenge the status quo, the history books (and business textbooks) won’t talk about March 2021 as the anniversary of a year of loss. It will be hailed the month we fanned the embers of change and lit the flame of progress.
Lisa Brezonik is the CEO at Salo, a talent company focused on designing the workplace of the future. We match vetted senior professionals in HR, finance, and accounting with organizations that need contingent or permanent help. Learn more at HelloSalo.com.
1. Women in the Labor Force, U.S. Department of Labor
2. January Fact Sheet, National Women’s Law Center
3. Why long-term flexible work options could be a game changer for women, CNBC
4. Women in the Workplace 2020, McKinsey