Work-life balance: some women are worried about being excluded from work decisions because childcare duties are preventing them from returning to the office
Work-life balance: some women fear being excluded from work decisions because caring duties prevent their return to the office © Getty Images

In a time of great economic upheaval and uncertainty, workers face huge anxieties over job security and the way they work. We asked the experts for their advice on how women can deal with the new pressures and stresses that have arisen during the pandemic.

Some colleagues are returning to the office, but I need to stay at home. I’m worried decisions are being made without me. How do I make sure I stay included?

“There is not one woman I have spoken to professionally who hasn’t made reference to taking on the role of a 1950s housewife as well as everything else,” says Sue Unerman, chief transformation officer at MediaCom.

“It is the whole sense that if there is domestic work to be done, it is not falling evenly. That was always true, but you could leave home and go and shut the door on it, and now you cannot.” All of that diminishes social capital, she says — the bits of your career that depend on networking, casual conversations, or simply being in the eye line of your boss.

“We need to draw up new contracts in our private lives,” says Ms Unerman, and at work, establishing boundaries is really important. Some scarcity about your time can be valuable.

“It is possible that when you start out, you do need to say yes to most things. But I know many people who are more established, who still feel they have got to do that.” Also, we are still in a crisis, she says, and “I can’t make it” can mean any number of things at the moment.

If you feel you are being left out of important decisions, Kathy Caprino, women’s career and executive coach, says, you need to bring it up. “In your mind, build a case. Is it you being paranoid, or is it starting to be a pattern?”

If you are wondering why you are not being included in meetings, approach the organiser, she says, for instance: “‘Hey Fred, I heard there was a call on strategic planning today and I didn’t get that invite. I want to be sure I’m in those meetings. Can I be put on that list?’ Give the benefit of the doubt. It could be a micro-aggression the person is not even aware of. Sometimes they are.”

I cannot meet new professional contacts in real life any more. How do I build a network online?

You can make an huge impact online, says Ms Caprino. Start on LinkedIn, and look at your profile. “You would be amazed at what people leave out: they do not have a photo, or a cover photo. They leave out critical details.” The headline does not need to be your job title, she adds. Use the platform to show “what you are doing, who you love to do it for, and the outcomes you are striving for”.

This can be especially useful if you are making a career pivot. For example, say you are in marketing but you want to move into sustainability — use the summary section to outline why you are passionate about it.

If this all sounds terrifying, Ms Caprino suggests adding some accomplishments to your profile. “Women are often reluctant to identify what they are great at, and they don’t want to say it,” she says. “You need to start talking confidently about what you have achieved.”

As for building a network, the key is to be of service first, she says. Give people recommendations for their work, or share someone’s article or post and say what it meant to you. Remember to include people in your network who are above your level: “Start following people who are 10 steps ahead of you.”

If you are contacting someone online for an informational interview, be specific with what you are asking for and how much time it will take, advises personal finance expert Berna Anat.

“Everyone is tired of Zoom calls with no end. You have to be extremely mindful of time and value,” she says. “Say: ‘I have three questions for you, these are about this very specific tenet of your life that I have already done research on and I know you can speak on. I think it will take 25 minutes.”

Also make clear what kind of value you can offer in return, she says. Avoid saying you just want to pick their brains. “Whether it is literally money . . . are you willing to pay them for an hour of their time?” Or is there a skill you can offer? For example, “you might say, ‘I’m really bad-ass at Instagram and I can teach you how to use Instagram stories for your business’. What is important is you are acknowledging tactfully that this is an exchange, and you have something to offer.”

How do I manage career anxiety and financial pressures?

Control what you can control, says Ms Caprino: “If you like your job, be the best you can be. If you really want to shine, now is the time, because other people are not.” Equally, if you are unhappy, use this time to figure out what you want to do, she says. “Do what you have to do to stay ahead financially, but plant the seeds for your future self — to research, reach out to people.”

“Professional women are warriors. We don’t ask for help very well,” she adds, but if it is all getting too much, do not try to tough it out on your own. “Ask for help: find a coaching buddy, find a friend, use your company’s employee assistance programmes.”

A lot of us are in survival mode, says Ms Anat. “When you are worried about not having money, you are worried about survival. Money concerns are inextricably tied to mental health.”

Do not beat yourself up if you do not have emergency savings. Whatever you are doing to make money now is all you can do, she says.

If you are making enough money, focus on budgeting. “If you are the CEO of your life, you need to have a meeting with the CFO,” advises Ms Anat. “Have a bi-weekly money date with yourself: look into what you have spent in the last month and think, ‘can I do this again?’ It is about having a sense of control.”

Finally, if the stresses on your life are getting to you, meditate, says Sue Unerman. “All anyone wants to know is when is it going to be over and am I going to be all right? Nobody has the answers, but 15 minutes meditation every day will be transformative.”

Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom and co-author of ‘Belonging: The Key to Transforming and Maintaining Diversity, Inclusion and Equality at Work’

Kathy Caprino is a women’s career and executive coach and author of ‘The Most Powerful You

Berna Anat is a personal finance expert

Get alerts on Managing yourself when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section