IWD 2021: This Year, Women Unleashed Their Superpowers
international women's day 2021
During a Difficult year, women unleashed their superpowers
Everyone who knows me knows that I’m an optimist, and I always have been. But this year, optimism has been a real challenge, even for me. COVID-19 and its aftershocks have completely altered the way we live — and even worse, totally upended the way we see ourselves and our futures.
For women, this pandemic year has often felt like a step back — no, like a leap back. Many of us thought we were (mostly) figuring it out, forging ahead in our careers, and managing the delicate balancing act of work and family. Even so, before COVID-19, we already felt like circus acrobats wowing the crowds by spinning several plates in the air. Then, a global pandemic tossed us another plate, or two or three — or four hundred.
For many of us, it was too much. December’s U.S. jobs report showed that women accounted for all of the 140,000 jobs lost in 2020. It’s a shocking figure that reveals a difficult truth. When it comes to what the sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls “the second shift” — all the housework, child care and elder care that needs to be done before, after and even during the workday (especially now that so many of us are working and schooling from home) —women still do the lion’s share of the work. These challenges are particularly stark for women in frontline positions and single mothers — and, most of all, for Black, Hispanic and Latina, and other women of color.
March 8 is International Women's Day, a day we celebrate the great strides women around the world have made over the past century. It’s also a call to action, a push to keep on building something that looks more like real equality. This year, more than ever, we can all see how much further we have to go. But this year has given us a gift, too. It has shown us how far we can go.
This year’s challenges often felt insurmountable. And yet, time and time again, women surmounted them. We’ve worked that second shift — and then some. We’ve turned our homes into offices and classrooms. We’ve done the essential work that enables the rest of us to have food, medical care and other necessities. In fact, even as we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of jobs, women, particularly Black, Hispanic and Latina, and other women of color, disproportionately fill those essential jobs. According to The New York Times,
“Women make up nearly nine out of 10 nurses and nursing assistants, most respiratory therapists, a majority of pharmacists and an overwhelming majority of pharmacy aides and technicians. More than two-thirds of the workers at grocery store checkouts and fast food counters are women.”
But no matter what our job descriptions say, no matter what our workplaces look like, we’ve all reached inside ourselves and found a strength we never knew was there. Yes — we might have chosen not to discover our superpowers in precisely this way, but now that we have, it’s time to ask ourselves: What are we going to do with them?
I’m incredibly grateful (and humbled) to work with legions of extraordinary women around the globe — and as I often do, I turned to them for their insights. I asked my colleagues at WE to tell me what superpowers they leaned on the most this past year.
Here's what they said:
“Before the pandemic, a 26-minute meeting would inevitably stretch to half an hour. 11 minutes of online shopping would turn into 15. But now I have a running list of the things that can happen in 4-minute increments: frying an egg for my daughter, watching a Madagascar 3 video clip with my son, making a cup of tea and dashing to the bathroom — at the same time! Most moments, it feels like 2020 stole a year of our lives. But it has given us a superpower too. We've learned that we can’t control time, but we can make more with it than we ever thought possible.” — Ki Mae Heussner
“We sometimes forget that we’re not alone and that we are in the presence of many amazing women. From our teams at WE to the women we call friends and family, these incredible people have a lot to give, but only if you ask.” — Leigh Hermon
“I’m juggling a 2.5-year-old and a 5-month-old, but it only makes me more determined — to not only excel in my work, but as a mom. I've been able to overcome moments that could've broken me. The determination to get things done has really pushed me through the uneasy times.” — Natalie Mollinet
“I’m deeply introverted. As someone who works in PR and has to go out and be in the public a lot, I saw this as a disadvantage and tended to overcompensate in work situations. During the 2020 lockdown, my personality became an advantage for me. I had a store of extra energy to draw on when it came to cheering up family and friends, or cheering on my colleagues. What I thought was one of my biggest weaknesses before 2020 became a superpower in 2020.” — Sara Pereira
“It has allowed me to become quiet enough to hear the fear and discomfort in a teammate’s voice, even through a video call. To be able to stop, be there for her, and help her know that she’s not alone. I’ve been able to experience my own panic attacks and feel the sorrow of not being able to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday with her, but not be overwhelmed. The best part of my ‘superpower’ is that we all have it inside us. We just have to practice it — to sit still and listen, and just breathe in the moment. The universe has asked us, in the loudest voice she has, to please, please stop. Be quiet and be still.” — Jessica Ratliff
Efficiency. Sisterhood. Determination. Introversion. Stillness. These things are essential, and hearing about my colleagues’ superpowers fuels my strength and fortifies my optimism. But I also know listening is not enough. Now it’s time for me, and all women in positions of power, to act.
This year, the theme of International Woman’s Day is “Choose to Challenge.” My #ChooseToChallenge pledge is to listen, learn, and do all I can to build not only the “new normal,” but the “new new” for the post-COVID-19 world — because the old normal just isn’t working. Listening without action has no teeth. So, we need to get to work. When I check in and ask my colleagues how they’re doing, I have to push even harder to truly invest the time to connect about how they are really doing, and model my own vulnerability, to make it abundantly clear it’s OK to not be OK. I’m driving our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion through our agency hiring practices, setting a mandate to elevate a diverse set of voices into leadership positions. Since child care and family care isn’t just an issue for women, we offer parental leave for all genders, and caregiver leave to encourage balance in responsibilities at home.
I’m with my team on this — what so many of us need right now is simply time to breathe, so I’m adding additional paid time off to allow our superheroes time to recharge their batteries. Because the truth is, it shouldn’t be this hard. Women have been superheroes this year, and throughout my entire lifetime. The task ahead: to build a world where we no longer have to be.
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