The COVID-19 pandemic has had widespread impacts on all aspects of the business world, but it has hit women in the workforce particularly hard just at a time when women were beginning to make significant inroads in many industries, including wireless. A panel at Connect (X) in Orlando explored how the pandemic has affected women in the workforce, from introducing new stressors and work-life balance challenges to changing how networking takes place.
The panel was hosted by Carrie Charles, chief executive officer of telecom staffing firm Broadstaff, who called the current situation a crisis as nearly 2 million women have dropped out of the workforce since the start of the pandemic.
“We need more women in the industry, and we have been making progress. COVID really hit us hard,” said Charles, noting that the industry was already facing a talent shortage going into 5G before the pandemic made the situation worse. The panel aimed to answer the questions of why women are leaving the workforce and how the industry can bring them back in and retain them post-COVID.
Joining Charles were Amanda Cahill, national director of business development at Squan, president of the Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum and co-founder of the Bold Women Society; Barb Burba, CEO of a certified minority- and woman-owned development and consulting company Amerisite, president of the Pennsylvania Wireless Association, and an instructor for the Telecommunications Education Center; and Keely Hughes, senior director of business development for Skill Demand Energy and the former president of the Indiana Chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy.
Burba pointed to recent research from McKinsey that found that in dual-income households, if there was a choice between the man or woman leaving their position to deal with COVID-19-related requirements, it was almost always the woman who left her job to take care of children and provide for their education needs at home. She also noted that frequently those women are being replaced by male counterparts.
Hughes said the trend of women dropping out of the workforce to attend to needs at home is happening across industries, including the energy industry, where Skill Demand is a player.
“I think as women, we are used to a juggling a lot of different things in our lives,” said Hughes. “But this particular pandemic has really caused us to sit back and think about what is really important in our lives, and I think that's why a lot of women have chosen not to come back to work.”
Women who remain in the workforce are frequently struggling with feeling stressed, overwhelmed and burnt out, said Cahill. To address these growing concerns and to give women an outlet, WWLF has implemented monthly virtual Motivation and Mugs networking meetings where they can connect with other women who are experiencing the same struggles.
Career growth opportunities and strategies have changed for women as well, the panel noted. With in-office meetings and face-to-face networking opportunities all but halted, women have had to learn to work and succeed within a virtual environment. Charles noted one of the challenges of virtual business relationships is that it can be easier for people to ignore you than in person. “We have to get more creative. There's so much we can do in our new world to be successful and be creative.”
Hughes said she has revamped her networking processes. “I made it a point of always asking a question during a webinar so people will not only know you but remember you because you've asked such an excellent question.”
Burba noted that the shift to virtual can also be beneficial, particularly when it allows you to meet with people who are more accessible online than they are in person. But the virtual environment should not be thought of as an excuse to not put your best food forward, she said.
“I told myself and my team to treat every Zoom call like it is like a job interview,” said Burba. “You dress for it, and you prepare for it just like a job interview.”
Cahill said to find career success, women should not only be bold and visible, but also turn inward and ask themselves what they want for their future and how they want to grow as an employee or leader.
“Most people don't do that,” said Cahill. “Who do you really want to be? Who's that woman? Who's that mother? Who's that coworker? And how does that play into what your future is going to look like one year, two years, three years or 10 years from now?”
Within the new realities that the pandemic has created for women in the workforce, balance will become more important than ever. For some, that may mean defining clear time boundaries between when attention is focused on work and when it is focused on family and personal pursuits. Others may find a different balance, attending to work in small chunks that alternate with time focused on non-work items.
Establishing work-life balance, however, sometimes means advocating for yourself and asking for what you need from your workplace or your boss without fear that these conversations will impact your job or reputation. At a time when companies are desperate for talent, company leaders are likely be responsive to requests for creative and flexible working arrangements and eager to find ways to relieve stress and improve working conditions to both attract and retain quality employees.
“Value yourself and work with your employer,” said Burba. “We have shortage of workforce in this industry. If you aren't happy and you can't work it out there's probably somebody that will work it out for you.”