Our latest research on women and their career ambitions found that the vast majority of us — four in five — are rethinking our careers as a result of this COVID year.
If this is you, then know that you’re far from alone in wanting to reset how and why you work for something different following this period of change and upheaval like nothing we’ve previously seen.
But how do you even begin tothink about taking the first steps? And with so many of us rethinking our careers, what will such a shift mean for the future of work?
What should employers be doing to better support these career resets?
These are just some of the question we sought answers on when we brought together a panel of entrepreneurs and HR experts and career specialists to discuss how the crisis has impacted women in their careers and what steps we can take now.
Moderated by Women’s Agenda Co Founder Angela Priestley, the panel also included Sarah Liu from The Dream Collective, Div Pillay, the CEO and Co-Founder of Mind Tribes, Prue Gilbert, CEO of Grace Papers, as well as Monarch Institute HR Expert Terrena Hooper.
They all shared their best tips, and examined the importance of diversity and inclusion in this career reset period, as well as employers’ duty to listen and care for staff — and the best leadership traits to cultivate as we move into 2021.
Talent can be built: Know your ‘Outsider Advantage’
Sarah Liu founded The Dream Collective more than ten years ago — an international organisation that aims to build sustainable change in female representation in the corporate landscape and work with leading organisations to empower young professionals around the world.
She believes that talent can be built, regardless of which industry you see yourself advancing towards. Indeed, Sarah’s aimed to do just that, recently, Liu creating a free 4-part online capability-building workshop to re-skill and up-skill individuals to help prepare them for career transitions and new job opportunities. The program — called She Pivots — has mobilised its partners to form a network of Career Partners, including Datacom, Amazon and Canva to support participants in applying for jobs within their companiues after they finish the program.
Liu believes the key is recognising and embracing “The Outsider Advantage.”
“The Outsider Advantage is looking at where innovation comes from,” she remarked. “It’s never from within the industry. It’s always at the intersection of diversity. This is where innovation takes place. Uber was not created from the transport industry. AirBnB was not from the hospitality sector.”
“That’s what we aimed to work with in this program. She Pivots is about helping both employee and employer embrace the importance of transferable skills in their employees. The more transferrable skills are harder to find and we aim to help people understand that.”
Employers should give agency
Prue Gilbert is the co founder of Grace Papers, which aims to make workplaces inclusive of all people with family and caring responsibilities, ensuring workplaces practices better reflect the modern lives of working families.
She said the stat that four in five women are rethinking their career right now is something workplaces should be paying close attention to as what we hear them telling us is ‘their ambition is not supported here.’ So fatigued from battling the system, they will move to where they see the grass might be greener.
“This year we’ve seen an acceleration of flexible work practises,’ she said. “We’ve seen the enablement of technology to work from anywhere, anytime. But this pandemic has highlighted some of the broken areas of our system from a care perspective and a gender equality perspective – we are still asking parents and carers (women) to be flexible, rather than changing the system.
“We need a system that will place care at the centre. The government has that responsibility when it comes to childcare, workplaces have that responsibility when it comes to the system.”
Gilbert believes that giving women agency will help them in negotiating a better balance in work and at home, reduce anxiety and stress and improve wellbeing.
“Giving them agency that would give them the autonomy to structure their lives and give them licence to operate their careers. We cannot underestimate the impact gender inequality has on women’s health,” she said. “In 2021, let’s keep flexibility at the heart of our conversation. Let’s put quality at the heart of those systems so we can spring forward to see women advance alongside flexible work policies.”
Liu urges women to avoid deselect themselves from opportunities, and shared an interesting experience they’ve had with men and women who apply to the She Pivots program.
“On a daily basis, we get emails from women asking if they can apply,” she said. “But the men? We don’t get any queries from them. They just enrol into the program without asking for permission to enrol.”
She told the panel this year’s pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement has propelled the need for companies to really take a hard look at their Diversity and Inclusion policies.
But it must go beyond tokenistic approaches. She said she saw a surge in requests for assistance from companies who hadn’t really done Diversity and Inclusion policies. They realised they knew they needed to do something, as a duty of care obligation.”
They were seeking help with a range of services, including awareness training sessions, panels, making a statement to the public regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and co-writing articles.
Many of these have been what Pillay calls “Spot treatment of Diversity and Inclusion.”
“We saw this push and pull. We saw genuine responses but we also saw tokenistic responses. It’s the toughest nut to crack.”
Pillay believes that many companies are yet to understand the true meaning of inclusion, though says “the pandemic has given us a renewed appreciation of individual difference.”
“It’s important for companies to look at the issue of Diversity and Inclusion intersectionally, otherwise there will be some people who will be left behind,” she said.
“It’s never too late for a company to re-set. Start doing the complex and grassroots work of making lives better by seeing and acting on the fact that currently, not everybody is included in the way that they should be.”
Stepping off the treadmill
Terrena Hooper is a trainer and assessor at Monarch Institute. She also teaches project management at Queensland TAFE in Brisbane.
She told the panel that this year has afforded people time they did not previously have.
“I feel like there have been periods of my life that I have been on a treadmill,” she said. “I have to think about my financial security, my mortgage, my children. It’s always just go go go. Covid brought it all to a halt. Many of us were forced to stop that treadmill mentality.”
“2020 has given us time to think and refocus,” she continued. “Many of my students told me they found enough courage this year to give something new a go. I told them they had to start somewhere. You have to give it a go. You can try something and if you’re starting it and you can change if you don’t like it.”
Hooper suggested practical things, such as scheduling your time during the day for effective work, and simply making a basic start on the things you want to achieve . “It will not be as bad as you think,” she said. “I am pro-learning, so my tip is to search your dream or goal job on Seek.com or similar portals regularly, notice any key words and digital tools that are mentioned. And think about how you can develop those skills.
“Then make sure you know about them. For example, in HR and project management (where Terrena teaches) there are often new software and app solutions that organisations what you to have a basic understanding of, I get a free trial and play with them. This helps me stay on trend or be ready to talk about my experience and knowledge of these solutions in a job interview.”
Terrena also recommends networking — of which there are many platforms and opportunities available, even while working from home. She notes the opportunities available on LinkedIn, as well as what can come from reconnected with old colleagues and former managers and leaders. “It’s so much easier to get work from people who already know, like and trust you.”
A leadership revolution?
“This year has been a year that’s seen the world redefined how we lead,” Priestley said. “Egotistical leadership faltered — with tragic consequences. What’s been succeeding is leadership that’s compassionate, open and transparent. Leadership that’s still decisive, but that puts care and people top of mind.”
Last month we also used our survey to ask respondents about the most effective traits of leadership they’ve seen in this pandemic year. The traits that were mentioned over again included: Authenticity, calmness, compassionate, honesty, courage and decisiveness.
So as we move into a new year, will there be a revolutionary change in the way countries and organisations are run?
“What we perceive as strong is being redefined,” Sarah Liu said. “However, already we’re seeing a lot of employers are going back to what was before. My hope is it changes. I’m a little bit unsure. I can only hope that employees are more vocal about what good leadership is and looks like.”
“Diversity of leadership will ensure that all the other things will come,” she added. “If we can build that in as a starting point, everything else will fall into place. Not one person can embody all those qualities of leadership we want to see.”
Div Pillay is likewise a little skeptical about a leadership revolution. “I’m already seeing a bit of slippage and noticing leaders going back on not checking in on people. That is discouraging. I hope employers continue to check in on their employees. Sustain those useful changes they made during the pandemic.”
Empathy is vital
For Pillay, empathy is at the heart of a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.
“There are three kinds of empathy,” she explained.
“There’s cognitive empathy, where you understand what someone else is going through. There’s emotional empathy, where you feel what someone else is going through. Then there is compassionate empathy, which is where you say, I feel what you’re going through, and I will act for you so I can get you some support.”
The latter type of empathy is what she hopes employers reenact in their interactions with their employees.
Pillay also urged employers to go grassroots and ask people how they feel and think about their diversity, and how they would like to be included. “Make sure to redress inequity for the most marginalised groups in your workforce first, before tokenistic ally hiring from these groups, when your culture isn’t ready. Build inclusion into your business strategy and your organisation culture, so it is part of your firm’s DNA.”
Pru Gilbert noted the need for healthy masculinity in organisations, as well as for flexible working policies to have equality embedded within them to support inclusion. “Revolutions rarely happen top down,” she said quoting Gloria Steinem. “They always happen bottom up. Agency is something that can be taught. If we can introduce a healthy masculinity, and embed equality into your flex policy to regain the gains towards inclusion, we can then spring forward into a better future. Don’t wait for change to happen, understand your agency, and use it.”
For Terrena Hooper, change and improvement starts with the individual. “It starts with self awareness,” she concluded. “Asking for feedback and listening to feedback is the best way forward.”