The struggle of being a young female professional during the pandemic

Strikingly

How do you go on with such a piece without beginning with a proper yet formal ‘what the fuck’ introduction. Let’s not sugarcoat it, the struggle is real for each one of us, but particularly for those who need to fight to make things happen. Since March 2020, our lives have been on pause. Not only are we battling with the time to deliver a safe and efficient remedy to the pandemic, but also to follow the path we aspired to take for so long. Now more than ever, the clock has become women’s worst enemy.

If we all have been compelled to give up on two years of our lives, we are surely not equal when it comes to sacrifices. For young adults in their twenties like me, this was supposed to be our moment, the one where the race for our career should have begun. This was our chance to prove that we were worth getting hired as much as our male counterparts, while fighting against the odds. For women and especially those of color, every step, every opportunity to make a difference matters. This idea had been highlighted by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org 6th edition of the American ‘Women in the workplace’ survey in 2020 where it became pretty obvious that all the efforts that were made over the past few years could not and should not be taken for granted.

For every 100 men promoted to a manager title in the States, only 85 women were promoted. For minorities, this gap was even more significant as they are traditionally less represented at the highest positions. Only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas made it to the next level of their career. Once again, “women were outnumbered in entry-level management at the beginning of 2020 — they held just 38% of manager-level positions, while men held 62%” as observed below in this representation of corporate pipeline for gender and race graphic offered by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org.

Reinforcing a Long-lasting Gender Gap in the Workplace

This, this was a pre-apocalyptic picture. A pandemic year in and lots of damage has been observed: unemployment at its peak, uncertainty in our tomorrow, the rise of anxiety in-n-out of work and a normalization of humans’ isolation. For the designated weaker sex, the negative impact of Covid-19 knows no limit. Out of 20.5 million workers laid off in April 2020 in America, 55% of them were women. They have been more impacted than their male peers mostly because the industries that hire them the most (tertiary sector of the economy) were those who were the most affected by the crisis according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. The thing is, there is so much more to understand than these numbers and figures. When one of us loses her job, we are not only losing financial security, but also our ability to be independent and taken seriously. Our one and only chance to step-out from the pre-defined role that Mother Nature has given us is being annihilated — and just like that, our definition of worth is being questioned in its entity.

Keep your expectations low and your dreams even lower

All around the world, employees are forced to redefine their work expectations and settle down for something they never thought they will deal with: a toxic work balance with little boundaries, accomplishments and challenges, no benefits and perspective of evolution. If it is a generic statement that could be applied to all of us, male or female, it is particularly true for women who still have difficulties to adapt themselves to the hostility of most workplaces. It is a man’s world, especially when times are tough. But if you dare to complain about your situation, you could easily pass for an ungrateful individual blindsided by his own privileges. Obviously, there’s worse than being employed and having a certain financial security when many are struggling. Yes, you should feel guilty for wanting more and dreaming of being treated equally when humanity is falling apart. There are some bigger priorities at the moment. If you are doubting it, let me set the record straight for you, ambition isn’t a fuel anymore but more of a hallucinogen for those who can’t face the reality of the world. That’s what COVID-19 has done to us. No dreamers left, only survivors who need to pick their fights. Sometimes, we forget how heavy it can become when there’s more than just yourself to mind. The list of sacrifices and challenges can go on particularly if the education of your loved ones depends on it.

Working-Mom, Girl Bossing in the dark

With schools closing and countries locking themselves up, the education of the future generations has been relying on parents who became out of nowhere fortuitous teachers. Depending on the household, the number of kids and their age, some of them started to double shift, mixing their schedules and going from a work duty to a parental one without taking a break. This is a lot of pressure and this has caused anxiety to many individuals who have the feeling that they are constantly failing at what they are doing due to a lack of time. As they can’t focus on one particular task, they are never reaching their fullest potential. No surprise here, numerous women are suffering from it and their offspring’s needs. On top of being devoured by guilt, they are also losing their ability to self-identify and exceed individually. For those who were once known for having it all, things got a bit messy.

These days, being a working-mom is often assimilated to a feeling of frustration and the inability of setting boundaries. As highlighted by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org’s American ‘Women in the workplace’ survey, Mothers are more than three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for most of the housework and caregiving.”

When lacking support, these working-moms might have to reduce their double-title to one, prioritizing their personal life over their professional one.

Give me your expiration date, I will tell you mine

As part of the top sacrifices made by these dedicated mothers, downshifting or resigning appear to be the next career moves. Many of them decided to do what could jeopardize their entire future for the sake of their family. If encouraged by the pandemic, motherhood is once again pushing women out of the workforce. Not valuable and wealthy enough to change the rules. In a traditional two-income picture dominated by testosterone, men are expected to make more money than their partner and not only for their own ego, but to get validation from the rest of the society. So whenever the “one of us has to quit” conversation is being raised in a heterosexual couple, most of the time women are naturally being evinced.

None of us could mentally afford to be mum-shamed and castrate their other half just by having the audacity to think we could be viable.

“The place of a woman is at home” says patriarchy, but your boss might too. When surveyed by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, these new stay-at-home mothers are often holding their employers accountable for scaling back by not creating an appropriate environment for them. “The following factors are predictive of whether an employee considers downshifting or leaving: lack of flexibility at work, feeling like they need to be available at all hours, worry that their performance is being negatively judged because of caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic — and last but not least — feeling discomfort in sharing the challenges they are facing with teammates or managers”.

The factors listed above could also be explained by the lack of strong female role-models in the workplace who are known for having it all. As a result, we do feel even more isolated and less driven. But for those who still dare to hustle from their living room, their leadership has started within themselves the day they understood they had to become their own mentor. Covid-19 or not, women will always be their own greatest ally.

French writer based in the Bay Area. Check my work: http://joannavaldant.strikingly.com

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