The Pivot

In the time of coronavirus, I’m sure we’ve all read piece after piece about how life has changed due to the “new normal”. About how more, not most, people are working from home. About how we need to “unpack” an insight from the latest Zoom meeting or webinar. Amidst this backdrop of an emerging low touch economy, is this notion of the pivot.

This summer, American media outlets, such as CNBC News, Forbes, and Fast Company, have covered business pivots of entrepreneurs, specifically highlighting those of women entrepreneurs. Even three years ago, Wendy Sachs published ‘Fearless and Free: How Smart Women Pivot – and Relaunch Their Careers’. It’s been incredibly inspiring to read these stories and case studies of women changing up their businesses in the face of adversity. At the same time, I cannot help but wonder about how feasible this, either finding a relevant job after being laid off or furloughed, or switching services or products to sell due to Covid-19, is for most women around the world. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good creative and smart move. And I love celebrating women who make them happen, whether they are simply responding to changes in the market, pursuing a more personally meaningful path, or both! But I am worried. In a July 2020 editorial for Foreign Affairs, Melinda Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a pioneer in global public health work, explained, 

“COVID-19, too, appears to be affecting women’s livelihoods more drastically than men’s. Early estimates suggest that around the world, women’s jobs are 1.8 times as likely to be cut in this recession than jobs held by men. What’s more, right as women’s paid work is evaporating, their unpaid work caring for children and family members is increasing dramatically. Before the pandemic began, unpaid work was already a major barrier to women’s economic equality. Now, with many schools closed and health systems overwhelmed, more women may be forced to leave the workforce altogether.”

Research performed by the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Zurich during March and April of this year echoes Gates’ concern.

In my own case, all of my international spring and summer work was cancelled. The pandemic caused tighter foreign work authorization restrictions and the full-time job I had secured in Switzerland fell through. But, fortunately, I could stay rent-free at my parents’ house in the Seattle area, work on my own projects there, figure out the job thing, and watch over my senior parents via grocery shopping, running errands, and cleaning extravaganzas. I had that safety net, I am grateful for it, and I acknowledge my privilege.

Is there equity in the pivot? I’m saying, “No.” As I have successfully reworked plans and financially sustainable jobs for the rest of 2020 and 2021, I again contemplate the fact that I had a choice/flexibility and many women don’t, and due to Covid-19, now have far fewer than they previously did.

SO, how can we be better allies to women looking to find new jobs or shift their careers when faced with increased unpaid labor, record unemployment, and unprecedented uncertainty. (Sorry for that last phrase – I know those are two other words I am tired of hearing.) Perhaps it’s childcare, grocery shopping (even doing the online ordering for a neighbor), basic chores, or just being there. Maybe it’s active mentorship, career coaching, and discounted professional development or up-skilling courses. Very likely, it’s some mix of all of the above – and more.

I have done my best to send relevant job opportunities to and share random job ideas with female friends looking for work. I have run errands for women in my neighborhood. I have also worked to elevate female voices during Zoom meetings, which often make it more difficult for women’s voices to be heard. Still, there are constraints on the salary – and health insurance! women need to support families, potentially obligations at home, and too frequently, the looming threat of student loans.

Organizations like the Ellevate Network, Ellevest, Fairygodboss, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance have created innovative new initiatives to help women get through financial losses and obtain the professional support and resources needed to get through the pandemic. The EllevateHER Forward fellowship provides year-long access to networking and mentorship opportunities; virtual webinars; and career development resources. According to CNBC, Fairygodboss, a women-focused career and networking platform, has recently launched a quick-apply feature linking job-seeking women with 12 companies who are actively looking to hire more women today.

What else are we able to do though? Do you know a woman who’s successfully managed a career move or change during the pandemic? How did they do it and what support did they find helpful? What responsibilities were the most challenging to overcome? I’m curious to hear about your own work experiences as a woman during the pandemic.