Setting the Stage: The Pandemic’s Disproportionate Impact on Women
In an introductory discussion, Dominica Anderson, PBWC president and board chair, shared troubling insights from McKinsey about some of the negative impacts of the pandemic, setting the stage for the challenges ahead for women in the workforce. She cited, “women—especially women of color—are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis, stalling their careers and jeopardizing their financial security. And, she shared, “More than 1 in 4 women are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely.”
PBWC founder Rep. Jackie Speier named this workforce displacement a “she-session”—a recession that disproportionately impacts women—and further discussed the inequalities the pandemic has caused. She shared, “We’re back to 1988 in terms of women’s participation in the workforce, with women only representing 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs and only winning 3% of venture funding,” she said. “Women continue to earn only 82 cents on every dollar compared to men.” Moving forward, we need to enable flexibility, agility, and resilience for women to regain their prominence in the workforce, she said.
Listening, Laughing, and Following the Fear
Writer, lecturer, and activist Gloria Steinem gave her advice for women in the workforce: “Follow the fear, and do it anyway. It will lead to all kinds of inventions,” she said. As a writer, she discussed her fear of public speaking and how through embracing this fear she came to learn the importance of “listening as much as we talk, if we tend to talk too much, or talking as much as we listen, if we’re too shy.”
She touched on how many people wrongly think the equal rights movement is over, so advocating for other women remains important. She added, “a movement is a group of people who provide comfort to each other … that’s the joy of a movement. We can’t do it alone. Movements are fun and enable companionship.” She discussed the importance of enjoying the ride, adding, “Laughter is proof of freedom.”
Connecting With Others to Create Change
Dr. Bernice A. King, chief executive officer of the King Center, started her session with advice from her mom, King Center founder Coretta Scott King: “Love, care, give, never give up.” She added that to make change, “there have to be enough people who are passionate about presenting an alternative picture.”
She recommended seeking to understand and genuinely connect with others because silos, while comfortable, are dangerous. She added nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding, further emphasizing the need for honest, uncomfortable conversations that heal rather than hurt. Ending with a spirit of optimism, she added, “Change has come. We are making progress. The doors will continue to open.”
Supporting People With Disabilities
Jessica Cox, a motivational speaker and holder of a Guinness World Record as the first armless pilot in aviation history, advised listeners to “never let fear stand in the way of any opportunity” and provided insights on how best to connect and work with people with disabilities. She recommended using the ACCEPT methodology to contribute to positive interactions with people with disabilities:
Acknowledge people with disabilities.
Communicate: Ask questions in a way that empowers both parties.
Consider what people with disabilities are saying.
Empathy needs to come from a position of being considerate rather than feeling pity.
People: Address the person before addressing the disability.
Trust: Don’t overhelp people.
Listening to Intuition and Being OK With Pivoting
Embracing career change and not seeing it as a failure is key to moving forward, said Valerie B. Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama and former chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. “It’s OK to pivot. The plan I made at 21 did not make sense at 31. … You have to listen to the voice inside of you. If everyone is saying this is great, and you're not feeling it, it’s your life and you have to own it,” she said.
To advance in a career path and make the most of an opportunity, Jarrett recommended “to not be afraid of talking about who you are, sharing what your needs are, and what helps you thrive.” She added, “Teams require you to trust each other. Be prepared to work hard. Recognize that you have to earn the trust of both the people that are on your team and those that supervise you. Prove yourself worthy, and be curious about people with whom you work.”