Aarti Shah 10 Mar 2021 // 10:00AM GMT
As we outlined in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, anguish and obligations dominated the past 12 months. But amid the raging crises, many women unearthed opportunities for entrepreneurship and new business opportunities. But perhaps, even more importantly, many women took control of their lives and prioritized their own health and wellness in ways that some had never done before.
The Washington Post recently explored female entrepreneurship during the pandemic, noting that new business applications are up, according to the US Census Bureau. The article also cites a survey that shows 1 out of 4 women are planning to start their own businesses on the back of the pandemic and two-thirds plan a career change. When it comes to wellness, basic fitness has seen a resurgence during the pandemic and, in the US, nearly half of American workers report mental health issues during this pandemic.
In Part 3, we explore the actions that women took during the past 12 months to protect their financial stability, their health, their well-being, and their communities.
Part 3, Actions: "Therapy and self-care made me come out of that zone"
“I will never forget the morning of November 9th, as we waited for the efficacy results of our vaccine candidate to be released. I was watching the news channels thinking how in a few hours the world would be different, and that was due to the efforts of my co-workers. It was a proud and humbling moment at the same time. When the release went out and every news story was covering it, and we started following the conversations on Twitter, it made every late night and early morning wake up call worth it.” — Ellen Gerstein, senior director, digital communications and social media, Pfizer
“I constantly out myself to my team – letting them know I watched a movie with my kids at 2pm on a Tuesday. Because for me that’s setting the right example. It’s giving them license to do what they need to do to take care of themselves. My glorious kids have made lockdown bearable, but oh how I miss having even a 10 minute drive from the station to adjust to being mum. But it’s different for all of us. We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat.” — Nik Govier, CEO and founder, Blurred
“There is a page in my notebook from April where I kept adding numbers and recalculating the revenue losses. We pivoted, offering virtual events, special startup packages, and a crisis toolkit. And then we swung in the other direction. In July, we began our busiest hiring season ever, driven mostly by a flood of VC funding and tech IPO plans.” — Beth Andrix Monaghan, CEO & founder, InkHouse
"I was watching the news channels thinking how in a few hours the world would be different, and that was due to the efforts of my co-workers"
“The last 12 months have been fraught with moments of despair and crisis, yet out of this, many of us in the communications industry are taking notice and looking at ways in which we can make a difference. I’ve been able to use my platform as a professional communicator and diversity advocate to draw attention to racial injustice, health inequities and giving a voice to women: we simply must be respected and heard, particularly since women are among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. And, even more so, women of color are disproportionately affected by the tough job market – bearing the brunt of layoffs, furloughs and budget cuts.” — Helen Shelton, senior partner, director of diversity & inclusion, Finn Partners
“What I realized was that the terms like burnout and anxiety which I had been shirking away from only wrapped me up. My work which was my coping mechanism was no more than an escape. Many said PR is a stressful job, you should maybe leave the profession. But this was something that I chose — being a workaholic, and this is something that I could only change.
So I decided. Therapy and self-care made me come out of that zone. Also, the strong support system of my friends and family. But most importantly, the spark within you that keeps you going. Which you and only you can keep alive!” — Pratishtha Kaura, communications professional
"No one is talking about how PR people, and journalists, have been in the thick of information consumption. Our brains and souls need and needed a break"
“On Zoom meetings, I’m always looking at my team’s facial expressions to see if they appear to be happy, overwhelmed, tired, etc. But it’s harder to gauge how someone is feeling over a computer. Like so many in my position, I often times worry about how our staff is doing during the pandemic.
I have three adult daughters and many of our employees are in the same age range. They could be home for days living and working in a small one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. I am concerned they can feel claustrophobic after a while or lonely.” — Maggie Helmig, president of LifeSci Communications
"I spoke to a business coach and psychologist and both helped to give unbiased perspectives, practical and emotional advice. For me, my coping mechanism is formulating a roadmap / a plan of action, so I took guidance from them both and put a plan in place.
Instead of frantically jamming it all in, I blocked time in my diary to make sure I can exercise three times a week, I can spend time with my children and then still have a solid run at really focused work, even if that’s when the kids have gone to bed. There are 148 hours in a week; I try to split that time in a balanced way and make sure there’s time to decompress." — Jane Morgan, managing director, Golin HK
“2020 is also the year I hired my first employee, found a professional partner, and wound my business, Various & Co, down to join Clarity as managing director in the New York office. The decision to have my team join Clarity was equal parts no brainer and the most difficult decision I’d ever made. Clarity’s global culture, clear commitment to developing impactful communications programs, and mission to disrupt the concept of an agency made joining the team an automatic yes in my book. But winding down my business less than a year after it started was not how I saw 2020 going.” — Kara Silverman, managing director, Clarity New York
“It is hard to truly decompress and relax. Exercise has been a huge help and it's non-negotiable 5-6 days a week. I also try to get outdoor hikes in with my friends when possible.” — Jennifer McGinley, CEO, JLM Strategic Communications
“It was time to lean into the power of reframing – time to remove the trauma and drama of the uncertain world in which we were suddenly living in. We decided to face this most intense challenge by mentally changing our narrative to reshape our reality. Everyone always says children are resilient, right? We wanted our family to look back on this experience and rather than create a story of despair, loss and uncertainty; we wanted them to be excited, enthusiastic and empowered. We’re fully remote ‘studying abroad’ in MA for the year and have one big happy work/school pod. It’s beautifully messy and loud and confusing and chaotic and everything is out in the open. — Jennifer D’Aponte, SVP, M Booth
“I always wanted to work for myself but I did not expect it to happen so soon. Once Covid started, I paid all of my bills monthly, and saved everything else. Within a couple of months, I felt financially secure to take a break. I went on a camping road trip with a friend and finally left the city. I breathed fresh air, lost cell service, and hiked for miles in beautiful terrain.
We are not designed to be cooped up in a small SF apartment working all day. I was sick of reading the news, watching the news, pitching the news, and I needed to feel free. I was sick of my phone and my laptop. No one is talking about how PR people, and journalists, have been in the thick of information consumption. Our brains and souls need and needed a break.
Having my own business meant I could work with the type of clients I wanted to work with and at first focused solely on nonprofits. I also created a schedule that I abided by, religiously. By 2021, I had multiple clients, agency partnerships, and my own business from home. Sometimes our career dreams force themselves on us, even if we didn't think it was time. We are stronger, and more capable than we think.” — Angela Baldwin, founder, Baldwin PR and Marketing
"Winding down my business less than a year after it started was not how I saw 2020 going"
“Over the last 20 years, I have started a new job seven times, but none was as challenging as this one. Covid redefined what disruptions mean. It completely changed ways of life and work for millions of people. The frayed social fabric in the US exacerbated the human reactions to socioeconomic, gender, and racial inequities. As a ‘pandemic President’, my 13” XPS laptop was all I got to manage and react to so many systemic issues facing my team and clients. At times I asked myself if I am doing what’s needed to alleviate human suffering and burnout issues, and am I balancing the need to respond quickly with the need to get it right?” — Katie Huang Shin, president North America, AxiCom
“A global pandemic and economic crisis isn’t the obvious time to swap a secure, senior level job in the public sector for a role in a SME, but one thing the last 12 months have made clear is that life is too short to stay stuck in a rut. That’s not to say I wasn’t a little nervous before leaving my 14-year career in local government communications for a newly created role agency-side.
I knew my old job inside-out and even though the public sector no longer means guaranteed job security, my 14 years of service meant a generous redundancy payout if the worst ever happened. I’d been ready for a change for ages though, so when the opportunity to join a growing national agency with a base in Leeds came along, it felt like the right time to take the plunge – even if the grim economic figures in the media suggested it was anything but.” — Racheal Johnson, head of strategy, Social Integrated Agency
“Internal communications – campaigns, leadership-connect, work from home guidelines be it for meetings or harassment – everything changed in the operational sense and the tonality, new jargons, content for external communications became more sensitive. There was no benchmark and yet just remembering the pandemic was a great leveler, helped in the messaging and the storytelling. Not to mention, having a strong professional network has never been so crucial.
And finally, the most important coping mechanism has been taking breaks, I took to forest hikes. The crazy has not settled, but these four things have helped me greatly.” — Ira Pradhan, leader - communications, D&I, CSR, Freshworks (India)
"We decided to face this most intense challenge by mentally changing our narrative to reshape our reality."
“My couch-office witnessed my recognition that this industry is a catalyst to activate my responsibility and influence as a Black woman. I am one of the people and part of the teams working at a more micro scale to help address and solve macro issues. That feels good, knowing it contributes to and can ladder up to real change. That’s the peace I’ve been able to hold close that keeps the days not so monotonous, but instead filled with renewed purpose.” — Yasmeen Phillips, senior director, Hotwire
“While leaving a well-established agency wasn’t easy, the pandemic created opportunities for specialists who can address global briefs in a more flexible setting. At the same time, women empowerment movements created an inspiring environment for women-led businesses. Setting the business up against this background was exciting and motivating, but it’s not without its own challenges. Recruiting the right people and building culture remotely requires more time and effort than ever before. Building relationships with clients over Zoom and Whatsapp simply isn’t enough. The only way to succeed now is to build dedication and more time in everything I do.”— Gosia Brzezinska, co-founder, BB Partners
Additional reporting by Arun Sudhaman, Diana Marszalek and Maja Pawinska Sims.
Part 4: Aftermath will follow this week. Read Part 1: Anguish here, Part 2: Obligations here.