The McKinsey Report released its “Women in the Workplace 2020” study, and I so wish I could say the results are surprising. They’re not. These results are expected now, just another flashing light on a fully malfunctioning dashboard called the tech industry. Yes, COVID-19 completely disrupted every element of our lives, and we are all sitting, fingers-crossed, that the light at the end of this year-plus nightmare is truly shining hope into our future again.
What no vaccine or lifted lockdown could ever address is the starkness of the “Women in the Workplace 2020” study. The world has changed, and for you as a leader in tech, you need to be aware of six serious challenges your team members, specifically women are facing as they try to navigate this new reality.
The study refers to the “double shift” – working mothers are coming home to their families after a full day of work leading teams and overseeing projects and having to provide distance learning support for their children, do household labor, and maintain some semblance of order. There is no ‘off day’ for female leaders in tech as schools and childcare aren’t available to provide much-needed support.
This is where the McKinsey Report study mentions six challenges:
- Anxiety over layoffs
- Mental health
- Childcare and/or homeschooling responsibilities
- Physical and mental health worries of themselves and their loved ones
- Financial insecurity.
As a working mom, I know the exact thoughts and moments where these six challenges are haunting so many women. We can’t keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them. It’s not working. This is what’s keeping your team members up at night – and it’s what’s holding them back from getting kickass results, being a high-performer, and a great partner and parent.
There are several key shifts you can make for your organization that will alleviate much of the stress and uncertainty they’re facing right now.
1. Create more flexibility.
Think about a team member of yours who is trying to do the best they can for your next tapeout, your next product launch, your next virtual customer engagement, your next closing of a sale. With all of that, one or more of those challenges are constantly running in the back of your team member’s mind. It’s no wonder things are getting even harder – there’s no relief! My daughter Emily’s school shut down during COVID-19 and guess what, I was an overnight distance learning parent, not an adventure I ever thought was possible even a year ago. Now, we are fortunate that my husband Randy and I can both be home while my daughter is doing distance learning, but sometimes, it’s bumpy. What’s worked for me as a business owner, an executive coach, and a mom is to plan tight and hang loose daily.
As a leader, one of the things you can do right now for anyone who is caring for a loved one or helping with distance learning is be more flexible with the schedule and deliverable due dates. Talk to your employees about what they’re up against, where that sweet spot is. A great example I saw the other day happened when I sent someone an email and the autoresponder that came back in their signature that read, “Offline daily 1:00 to 2:00.” It was exactly in the email signature, which signaled to me she already talked with her manager, her manager was supportive of her because that was their organization’s culture, and she could be fully present with her family on a consistent basis.
2. Don’t dump it on HR.
Your HR team probably sent a bunch of resources to everyone in your organization and in those emails there’s probably an overwhelming amount of information. Where do you start? How do your team members know which resources or tools are right for their exact situation right now?
As the leader, you need to familiarize yourself with the resources available from your company and which resources may be the best fit for your team members. If you’re talking to a team member and they say, “I’m really struggling with childcare,” or “I need some flexibility,” or “I’m thinking about taking a time off,” you need to know what programs and policies are in place to support your team member.
Loyalty and engagement grow when team members see that you care about them as a person, not simply what you can get out of them. When you understand what’s available and help your team members navigate those resources, it creates a much stronger bond for the future. Exploring the options with your team members isn’t a time consuming thing to do – you can do this in your regular 1:1 meetings. You also don’t have to wait for them to bring it up – you can simply ask “What would be helpful right now?” and then let them tell you. Disclaimer: I am not suggesting you become a benefits expert for your global workforce. I am suggesting you know the basics of what is available and help your team member navigate to the right person at the right time without necessarily needing to check the website or call HR.
3. Take one thing off your team members’ plates.
Life isn’t anywhere close to what we’re used to right now – and that’s okay. It does mean we need to adjust our expectations and remove obligations and ‘nice to have’ tasks so the best energy is spent wisely. Your people don’t need one more thing to do, so what can you take off your people’s plates right now? How can you really focus on what matters?
On a practical level, don’t schedule meetings at the beginning of the day when kids are getting into school or critical all-hands meetings at times when you know your team members aren’t going to be fully present. When it comes to Zoom calls, don’t make everybody be on camera all the time. That working parent who’s just trying to get everything done may not want to be on camera because they don’t feel like they’re at their best right now.
Unprecedented challenges require unparalleled understanding to help women at work truly thrive, not just survive.
What you do today to foster more flexibility and focus with your team will give you the greatest payoff in the future. It’s going to require you to be more human with work. Your head and heart need to show up. That’s what’s going to make the difference here. Life is too short to burn your health to the ground all for the sake of just another presentation or client meeting.
I wore the badge of honor of overachiever until I ended up in the emergency room while they ruled out a heart attack. This wake-up call happened back in 2015, and I’ll confess now: I didn’t tell my husband because I didn’t want him to worry. I brought my laptop with me and my colleague was with me because we had a big presentation the next day. Here’s a picture of us sitting in the emergency room waiting for my test results:
I took the picture as a way to update my VP that we were getting work done no matter what. I was proud to show him he could count on me. That picture makes me incredibly sad as I look at it now. That’s not a badge of honor – that’s a badge of obligation. That’s not a badge of engagement or loyalty – that’s a badge of wanting things to be perfect and never having space or room for the inevitable. It’s the badge of a maxed-out overachiever.
If your team members are packing their schedule for you, if projects are squeezed even tighter, if you just keep adding more action items right now, it’s quite possible there’s someone on your team that’s going to end up in the emergency room with their laptop or worse. I bet you don’t want that for anybody you love or lead. Whether you’re the SVP, CEO, board member, or first line manager, whatever your leadership level is, give your team members permission to find some space for quiet, rest, and clarity of what really matters right now. For the overachievers who never break, pay close attention to them. You may have to take things off their plate for them. As someone who’s been there, asking for help or asking for a break is not in an overachiever’s DNA. You need to show them the way.
Rebooting from Burnout
If you or someone in your organization is on the road to burnout, it doesn’t have to lead to an ER visit or worse. I successfully rebooted my career inside tech without having to exit tech. Now, I get to work with leaders in tech all over the world to get kickass results, build high-performing teams, and be present for the moments that matter. Burnout doesn’t have to be inevitable. Take the first step by connecting with me at rebootwithlisa.com.