Too often, we see the negative instead of the positive possibilities that are coming out of a challenging period. A focus on the bad news is particularly the case as we anticipate the post-COVID-19 recovery for the economy and its impact on men and women.
We read a lot about how work-life balance in the home has posed difficult challenges, at best, or has proven damaging to relationships that might have been fragile beforehand. Of course, as we hear so often, women with jobs to do found that they now had to manage their children’s schooling, meals and cleaning, and provide a quiet environment for their working spouses or partners.
As I read about how men and women were coping, I kept seeing different patterns from among my clients. Some were, indeed, struggling. Ironically, it was the men who seemed to find the home-based business environment the most unsettling. Many of the women started out challenged at their new home life, yet rose to the occasion to find innovative ways to manage their daily lives. And they were balancing their own needs with those who were counting on them.
It made me wonder what was happening out there, beyond the myths and the hype. What did this pandemic mean for both women and men?
On the one hand, we did listen to our women clients moan about how they were seriously multi-tasking. During one coaching session, a client who is a financial analyst and data expert was telling me about her frustrations. She was trying to get her team to analyze the data in new ways. They were not all that clear about the process or the problems.
As she was working with them, her spouse sat on the couch watching TV, their kids were arguing, and she was anticipating a conference call with her boss. While we might have seen the “lemons” in this picture, she and I spoke about the opportunities she could see emerging as her team developed their self-awareness, and she enabled them to improve their skills while she managed her children and her spouse. Her husband wasn’t any different from before. They understood each other as they had been. And in subsequent coaching sessions, she saw how he was developing new confidence in coping with their children. There was enduring hope emerging. And she was finding new ways to converse with everyone.
She kept using conversational intelligence, which the late Judith Glaser urged us to do in her book Conversational Intelligence. Our brains are happier, build trust, and collaborate better when we speak about “we” – not “I.” As my client learned, it is about how “we” cope with the changes together, respecting each other, but also changing how we do things. And her family began to see the possibilities of doing things as a family.
Another single woman with whom we were working was fortunate to rally her parents to lend a hand with the kids. At the same time, she developed new skills to work with her staff remotely, realizing she had talented folks who could get a job done without her micro-managing them. Her female bosses, with whom we also were working, kept feeding back to us how their staff, and this woman in particular, was consciously telling them about how they were growing in their roles as they adapted to the new environment.
They were managing their emotions, learning how to build teams in remote settings, and leading to an unknown future when their staff wanted certainty. Without a better idea of what was coming next, they were making it up, quite effectively. And it was OK to imagine an uncertain future when leading others who wanted something impossible to offer. As women leaders, they developed a style based on trust, honesty, and understanding, turning the pain of the changes and the challenges of the uncertainty into something that bonded them together into a new normal—however they defined that.
What might these scenarios suggest for businesses and how they view women for leading the jobs that need to be done as we reopen the economy? How could women rethink themselves to see themselves as heroines, real success stories in the pandemic environment?
From an anthropological perspective, I suggest you step back and see this through a fresh lens. Don’t assume anything about the past culture and how it was going to come back. Instead, begin to create a new story about the future. Ask your staff to tell you about how they each coped with the changes that came so quickly and seemed so unfamiliar.
It is essential to realize how people change by making something unusual routine. During this period, women were at times doing remarkably amazing jobs creating new home environments for themselves, their employees, and their families. Not always, of course. But far more often than you might imagine.
Perhaps, they can do something amazing at the office when it reopens after this pandemic. Maybe that office won’t ever need to come back. Your leaders, however, might have been grown while they were tackling life at home. Ask them about how they managed, and listen for their heroine stories, how they climbed with others over mountains and molehills. They triumphed, at times, as they settled into a new familiar lifestyle where they could each do their jobs, raise and teach their children, and enjoy each other’s company.
One of my clients was a manager who was so amazed by how she and her husband restored their deep affection for each other, that they happily went out to buy a boat they had been arguing over for many years. At the same time, they both realized that they had to manage their staff with more compassion and kindness, trust, and collaboration.
Perhaps there is good to come and opportunities for women and for men to see each other through a new perspective. In the process, create better leaders, managers, and teams to pull the economy and the culture into a new stage in our gender development.
As Andrea Kramer, author of Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work, shared: “From the #MeTooMovement to the Coronavirus pandemic, the women’s workplace world is changing so quickly it is impossible now to make any predictions.”
With that said, we are both more hopeful than we have been in quite some time that women will catch up with men.
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