After the anguish, the obligations and the actions that women managed during the pandemic, we finally look at the aftermath. As the global vaccine rollout is showing the way for us to slowly crawl out of the depths of the pandemic, it is clear that the experience has fundamentally changed us. Perhaps these changes were already brewing and simply accelerated and amplified by Covid-19. Either way, the future looks brighter and brimming with more opportunity for everyone, especially women.

McKinsey said its surveys show that executives in many industries expect hybrid models of remote work are here for good because we’ve broken the cultural and technological barriers that previously hindered distributed work. While leisure travel is expected to bounce back, the company’s travel practice estimates business travel will permanently reduce by 20%. It’s worth noting, the authors caution that while these shifts increase independence and flexibility — a boon especially felt by women, it could also make gender disparities within the workplace worse.

It’s not just the workplace that has transformed. We, as humans, have. There’s an analogy that Sandra Kleinberg, Porter Novelli’s LatAm regional managing director, made that I’m drawn to: “The Japanese have a concept called Kintsugi. Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery by using a special lacquer dusted with gold instead of using transparent glue.

As a result, the pottery has beautiful ‘stitches,’ golden cracks that shine and make each piece unique. This method of repairing broken pottery celebrates the history of each object, emphasizing its breaks instead of hiding them because they are part of a philosophy that highlights both fragility and a capacity for resilience.” 

Part 4, Aftermath: “Employers are faced with a historical opportunity to re-write the rules”  

“It remains traumatic for all and great losses, including lives, have been felt. So whilst we are in the trauma and trying to deal with it, we must learn from it and see it as a catalyst of change. I hope this experience has further shaped my leadership skills and my business skills for the better and for me personally, it has been a time to readdress work life balance, the need for quality time and less multi-tasking and to think about future goals and drivers of professional and personal happiness.” — Jane Morgan, managing director, HK Golin 

“This year, I am reclaiming my time and energy. I am using all the frustration of 2020 to further my resilience, be optimistic, kind, and empowered in the workplace and in my community.” — Jazmin Eusebio, account executive, Highwire PR

“If I reflect on the past year, I was mostly doing OK to be honest – frazzled and worn out yes, but overall OK. Until the Black Lives Matter movement hit the headlines. I was so thin from having been the one who had to have the answers and the right path – for staff, for clients, for my family – that this was the moment I faltered. And I learnt a really valuable lesson that I should trust my gut more – it might not be scientific but it’s usually right. So in all it was a very difficult year that’s transpired to be unexpectedly a confidence building year.” — Kate Stevens, president Europe, AxiCom

"I hope to be able to pass on my personal attitude to my sons and to support their future partners"

“All the agencies that did a furlough — now it’s all about talent again and it’s a sellers market again. There is a huge demand for talent and people are asking questions and are gravitating to the agencies that did right by their employees during the worst of it.

And workers, young and old, have discovered the inefficiency of commuting. And yes, they want to see their colleagues and engage. But they don’t see the value in sitting in the same place together all day, doing what they could easily do from home. If an agency doesn’t truly embrace this, I don’t think it will be in existence in five years.” — Name withheld, US agency leader 

“I have now become much more ruthless in managing my calendar and built new habits and ways of working—making 30 mins the default setting for all Zoom meetings; declining meetings with topics that can be addressed efficiently through emails; popping a short note on Teams, Zoom, WhatsApp or WeChat if I have quick question for colleagues or just having a quick five mins chat; blocking out time in my day and following through to get up and walk away from the laptop to eat lunch somewhere else; making sure I mentally end my work day and switch off the laptop and to do one weekly call or in-person catch-up that is social rather than project-related.

I’ve also gotten better at leveraging the flexibility of wfh to manage my day so I can have a snack with my daughters and hear about their day when they get home from school and take turns with my husband to make dinner. With mixed success, we’ve made folding the laundry, watering the plants and tidying their toys a game for the girls! This is likely to be our new normal for some time.” — Azmar Sukandar, head of communications and society, Asia-Pacific, Diageo

“During those months, while working on some freelance projects, I had my own moment of clarity: if we want working moms to thrive in this industry, the structure of how work is done and the real value of the eight-hour (or more) workday has to be changed. We can't ask individuals to solve problems that are systemically created. Beyond company mission statements, Instagram quotes and Facebook groups, employers, decision-makers and business owners have to stop asking moms to choose their families or careers, but instead figure out how their work and families fit together.

Employers are faced with a historical opportunity to re-write the rules and create a new system that accommodates real workers and not one that was built before women, let alone working mothers, even had jobs.”  — Moon Vitiello, WeRaisePR

“During the pandemic, for example, we have relied on taking working hours on trust in order to reconcile work and care—by reducing or increasing working hours flexibly and by offering our employees digital childcare and footing the bill for it. We have just extended this approach and will maintain it after the pandemic as ‘companions in (the) life’ of our employees.

We offer advice and coaching by external experts on all issues and in all phases of life, from work-life balance, caring for family members and dealing with stress to coping with bereavement. I hope that all of these will help our employees to emerge from the pandemic and thereafter strong and healthy. And I hope to be able to pass on my personal attitude to my sons and to support their future partners just as we support each other as a family.” — Dr. Sabine Hückmann, CEO, Ketchum Germany

"What could I have done better to make my last job work, but also thinking about what I needed - and still need"

“The stories I heard from colleagues in our employee town hall after George Floyd’s murder continue to stay with me today. They are reminders why issues of equity and social injustice are as visceral in micro as they are in macro, how bound to history we are across all of its tension points, and our personal and professional responsibility as agents in that history.” —  Robin Kim, global technology practice lead, Ruder Finn

“I have rejoined the workforce, after eight months out. I spent that time snuggling my children, celebrating holidays in quarantine but with fervor, thinking about what I could have done better to make my last job work, but also thinking about what I needed - and still need - from an employer that I didn't get from my last one.

I joined the board of my industry organization, and am now a part of their diversity, equity and inclusion committee, to try to help others who might be feeling the way I did, and help guide communications agencies to better address the needs of their female and POC employees. I spoke up candidly in industry discussions about diversity. I made peace with my feelings, and I remembered who I am. Everyone should be able to take the time to do this for themselves. As I said, I am incredibly lucky.” — Syreeta Mussante,  PRSA Silicon Valley Board Member and B2B & technology practice lead, Praytell  

“At first it was a shock to completely stop our regular routines, to completely stay at home, to homeschool three boys under the age of 11, all while working full time from home. It was hard to balance it all. It was emotional.

But through it all, something wonderful also emerged. Priorities shifted. Gratefulness has sunk in. I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my children this past year and being more ‘present’ for day-to-day activities. I am so grateful to have a job that I love and to work for a company that has been very supportive throughout this entire challenging year. And now, I’m not sure I ever want to go back to the ‘crazy’ that was before.” — Gretel Perera, director of public relations for Latin America, Roku

“Let us not yearn for what we had before the pandemic; this year we spent inside should drive us to reassess who we are on the inside, in terms of physical, mental and spiritual spaces, helping us transform into the very best versions of ourselves.” — Sandra Kleinberg, Porter Novelli’s LatAm regional managing director

“Thriving in womanhood and parenthood can feel unattainable even in the best of times. Both are so weighty, so complicated, and so full of cultural and societal expectations and those ‘instagram vs. reality’ moments. Even in ‘these times’ I think that the best we can do is the best we can do. I think that searching for silver linings, shifting our perspective, and sharing in a guttural, connected scream is the key to our survival in the workplace. That, and so much more. If you figure it out, please let me know.” — Frani Chung, SVP, M Booth

“Work life balance has always been a struggle, but this last year it has been pushed to the max. But, there's hope, I feel that as we come out of this, there will be a certain amount of understanding of what others have to contend with; an acceptance of the juggle of blending work with home life and an appreciation for kinder more considerate ways of working.” — George Blizzard, co-CEO, The PR Network

“I’ve been trying to set clearer work-life boundaries through better time management. The video conferencing fatigue is real and I’ve had to ask myself many a time, do we need this call or can this be a discussion over email? H+K has been very respectful of this fatigue, encouraging us to take mornings off or to avoid booking meetings at certain times of the day.”— Natasha Henderson, global business development + marketing manager, H+K Strategies

“Seeing all of the people risking their lives to protest and march in their cities, I felt empowered to talk to my coworkers on why this is important and what this should mean for the future of our country. If I’m going to have a seat at the table, the least I could do is speak up and be heard. Ultimately, while the pandemic surely was hard on so many people around this world, my personal silver lining was that it allowed me to find my voice, my passion, and a level of confidence that most of us haven’t experienced since those times as kid when we felt invincible.” — Azizza Brinson, manager of media strategy, Hotwire 

"Thriving in womanhood and parenthood can feel unattainable even in the best of times. Both are so weighty, so complicated"

“2020 was also the year that I had no choice but to recognize I am part of the 2.6% Asian Americans in my industry. It was a year with no lack of creation of offices (and officers) of diversity and inclusion, and other agency-wide initiatives. However, early signs suggest the road ahead can be bumpy, as meaningful progress requires more than implementing organizational policies; it calls for a little less conversation and a lot more action.

I became more conscious of the need to open doors and help Asian American communications professionals to gain the skills required to advance. If you ask me what advice I would give my 2020 self, I would say: 1) don’t let setback set you back, 2) put care at the center of your leadership, and 3) Kelly Clarkson is right, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” — Katie Huang Shin, president, North America, AxiCom

“While we have been lucky so far staying out of harm’s way, the feeling of being untethered persists. The feeling that we cannot help everyone weighs. It’s hard knowing that there are so many that need help and we cannot help everyone, but I try to find small victories everywhere possible: Remembering how awesome it is not to commute, really spending time with my husband and kids, helping someone, doing meaningful, strategic work. These are some of the things that keep me going.” — Vanessa Yanez, head of print communications, HP

“There has been a seismic shift in the way we are leaned on by our clients.  Our scopes have expanded beyond the building awareness funnel and moved toward being a trusted business advisor on all things from employee brand, diversity & inclusion to race relations. We have grown closer to the issues that matter most by living through the challenges side by side. This put tremendous pressure on the agency workforce that is built on a foundation of young, smart and mostly female communicators. These amazing women are also navigating caring for children, becoming teachers while nurturing a virtual team. 

What I am seeing today is a collective sigh. Instead of burnout, I am seeing hope. Hope that we can refill our empathy bank by finding new ways to connect, refresh and engage. From walk and talk meetings to the reaffirming of work/life boundaries.” —  Annie Perkins, managing director, Shift

"If an agency doesn’t truly embrace this, I don’t think it will be in existence in five years”

“Since last March, many companies like ours have come to realize that working inclusively and respectfully involves championing and listening to a wide range of our employees who are simultaneously managing the demands of client work and their children’s homework, sometimes even a few feet away. With humility and humor during our day, we have all taken multitasking to an entirely new level.” — Bridgette O’Neal, US head of DE&I, H+K Strategies 

"To say that the past year was hard would be the understatement of the century but [and that is a big but], this past year also presented many opportunities. During this time, I was able to connect with colleagues across the globe, who also started their own agencies, and found ways to work together and expand our network.

I also had the privilege of building a woman-owned business with an amazing team – and it all happened from our homes over the phone, or text, or Zoom – and for some of our new team members, I have never even met them in-person.  Further demonstrating that the way we used to work, is no more!”— Jennifer Risi, founder and president, The Sway Effect

“The skills I’ve developed as a woman in PR throughout the past 20 years, certainly helped me handle 2020. Our ability to communicate effectively, deal with a crisis, and uncertainty, be innovative, stay calm under pressure and manage multiple stakeholders all proved very valuable in all areas.” —  Louise Jacobson, managing partner, Brazen MENA

"Seeing all of the people risking their lives to protest and march in their cities, I felt empowered to talk to my coworkers on why this is important"

“A hellish year. When will it end? Nobody truly knows. What I can say is that I’m incredibly proud of my Thermal team and trying hard to keep it together on the homefront. One silver lining of the pandemic has been the public’s renewed focus on healthtech and scientific breakthroughs such as CRISPR technology which, given our specialization, has meant 114% revenue growth and a lot of new demands - especially for a female co-founder.” — Brenna Sweeney, co-founder and CXO, Thermal  

“There are days still where I spend 22 hours in this one room. It is a very small room and four walks around the block in a day cannot cure this. My kids come in and out mid-meeting for a hug, or to tell me about their video games (which were forbidden pre-Covid…) or to just interact with another human because they are lonely. And I want to hug them and at the same time yell ‘let me finish so I can just be done for the day,' but I usually just hug them and realize how lucky I am that I can.” —  Nichole Mullen, VP head of insights, Hotwire

Additional reporting by Arun Sudhaman, Diana Marszalek and Maja Pawinska Sims.

Read Part 1: Anguish here, Part 2: Obligations here, Part 3: Actions here