Please don’t tell women that “things could be worse”.
As we enter the fourth wave of the pandemic, career women are once again being asked to exercise the most heroic of superpowers: work, parent, adult.
I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me that “things could be worse”, my fists start to slowly curl. Alright, that’s a little aggressive. Let’s say that my brow starts to furrow and twitch. I get it, you’re probably saying it because you don’t know what else to say, right?
Why don’t we agree right now to stop saying that? It’s not helpful.
When we use that old chestnut, we’re detracting from a person’s very real emotional experience. It’s a minimizing response that doesn’t make anyone feel good. While it may be factually true (although nonsensical to point out) that things could be worse, the literal interpretation of the response is invalidating.
We need to stop minimizing the incredible stress that women everywhere are experiencing. Executive women, women in business, stay-at-home mothers, single mom’s, single women, women in transition, unemployed women.
ALL women. This. Is. Hard.
To be clear, it’s hard for men too. I have zero interest in bashing men because:
a) I am married to one. He’s an incredible man who does more work “around the house” than I probably do.
b) Not all men should be lumped into one category or seen as “the enemy”. They aren’t.
c) We already have so much division in our world as it is, (to vaccine or not vaccine, wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, close business or open business, need I go on?).
I don’t have the patience or bandwidth to pile on the bad-mouthing. For what purpose is that remotely helpful?
Do you know what’s helpful? Empathy, education, and action.
I’m an Executive Coach who works with successful and high achieving women. I’m speaking for them. They are struggling and they are surviving and it’s damn hard.
When we say that it’s hard, that’s our reality at that moment.
Most health care professionals agree that accepting negative emotions without judgment is one of the best ways to improve your psychological well-being.
According to Plan Canada International, women are continuing to bear the brunt of Covid-19. The outcomes are often less visible but incredibly harmful. Child-care, gender pay gap, violence, and the fact that the majority of healthcare workers are women. This continues to be the case right now.
In the executive space, the stats are alarming. According to a McKinsey Study,
the pandemic had a near-immediate effect on women’s employment. One in four women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers versus one in five men. While all women have been impacted, three major groups have experienced some of the largest challenges: working mothers, women in senior management positions, and Black women.
As a former HR Executive, I know organizations have this disparity on their radar. However, despite companies’ efforts to support employees during the crisis, women are still feeling more exhausted, burned out, and under pressure than men are, according to the 2020 Women in the Workplace study.
Therefore, minimizing and reducing women’s feelings is a surefire strategy for more women exiting the workforce or at the very least, looking elsewhere.
So. What’s my point and what advice do I have to employers and women everywhere?
1. Acknowledge that the pandemic places disproportionate stress on women. When a woman needs to express emotion around the topic, listen. Instead of asking, “how can I help”, instead ask, “what is the one thing I can do right now to ease the load?” If you’re an executive woman in this position, I suggest you state specifically what you need to delegate or remove from your list. This isn’t the time to respond, “I’m fine”. I’m talking to you, high achievers!
2. Create clear boundaries around personal and work. I mean, crystal clear. Specifically stating, I am unavailable between 12-2, as an example. Too often, I see organizations launching these types of rules of engagement or guidelines, only to be thwarted by leaders who often ignore them when an emergency situation strikes. In order for boundaries to have any impact, they need to be enforced. Create contingencies for emergencies.
3. Offer increased access to personal enrichment opportunities. This could include access to executive coaching, mentoring, and self study. Make retention efforts very clear to women in senior leadership roles. Make a decision at the top to create a strategy around female executive retention, with tactics and deliverables, not something we speak about for 5 minutes at a quarterly town hall.
Oh, and please please please don’t tell women to look on the bright side, chin-up buttercup, or “it could be worse”.
Let’s agree to ban those statements from our vocabulary.