Due to a variety of factors including responsibility for a load of caregiving tasks for their families and their overrepresentation in frontline positions vulnerable to disruption, women have borne the brunt of employment loss and negative career impacts over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a MetLife study of 2,000 U.S. workers conducted in September, nearly half of all women think the pandemic has had a negative influence on their career path. In the last 18 months, one out of every eight working women has moved companies or employment. Almost one-fifth of all women say they've been pulled out of the workforce altogether.
These are startling figures. I wanted to learn more about how this has affected Tucson's female workforce, so I contacted Dre Thompson, the Executive Vice President of Startup Tucson, and the Festival Director of the TENWEST Impact Festival. Dre is also a member of the Advisory Committee for the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona, the Pima Community College Business Advisory Committee, and the Tucson Innovation Partnership. She formerly served on the Tucson Young Professionals Board of Directors as the Governance Chair and on the Tucson Metro Chamber's Talent Attraction and Retention Taskforce.
Last October, Dre wrote an article discussing how local female leaders were looking to address the urgent problem with women leaving or scaling back on their workforce participation. She wanted to check in with local thought leaders in our business and technology sectors to see what challenges the pandemic brought to our community.
Arizona is already significantly further behind other states when it comes to corporate gender and racial parity, with the estimated cost to our economy being $105.2 billion dollars of lost revenue and over 90,000 jobs (Empowered PhXX Collaborative, 2018).
While women are figuring out how to navigate these new challenges, the group says that, overwhelmingly, the most crucial factor that has helped them keep momentum is maintaining their professional relationships with other women. Not just in their workplace – but also as peers and mentors.
“While there is no simple, single solution to the issue we face, the group is determined to use their positions, experience, and voice to continue to demonstrate leadership in the face of unprecedented challenges.”
It’s been discussed that one of the biggest factors to empowering women and underrepresented groups to pursue their passions is mentorship. It’s not often discussed, but mentorship is an area in which women end up carrying invisible labor. Young women need quality mentors to help them navigate the workforce, make networking connections, and plan their career paths. Dre and the leadership group proposed one possible solution - that both mentor and mentee share this labor and help facilitate empowering experiences.
As women, we can also encourage the men around us in management or senior leadership to carry some of that load. A recent survey of 400 men by Fairygodboss found that 87.5 percent want to help women advance their careers, but 56 percent aren’t sure how to help. Mentoring, sponsoring, and working with women one-on-one can help to stop perpetuating the glass ceiling and pay disparities that women face.
Fortunately, there is one promising sign that could indicate a stronger economic recovery: According to MetLife, two-thirds of women who have been driven out of work intend to return. And 8 out of 10 women who have been pushed out of the workforce and plan to return say they want to work in a STEM field.
This is fantastic news. Not just for those women, and the STEM sector, but also for Tucson and Arizona as a whole. Startup Tucson and The University of Arizona Center for Innovation both received grants from the US Small Business Association for their strong commitment to making entrepreneurship more inclusive.
Together these organizations are looking to target underrepresented groups, Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs, and a large focus on increasing the number of women STEM entrepreneurs. These initiatives and several others in the works are positioning Tucson to be recognized as an up-and-coming entrepreneurial hub, with a unique focus on diversity and inclusion.
I asked Dre to give us some advice for women and young girls who might feel discouraged about starting a new business or even remaining in the workforce.
“I think a key for staving off discouragement is to be super clear on your own personal goals -- be they professional or financial -- and ask yourself, how can I leverage this current opportunity to meet those goals? Whether or not your current work is "perfect", taking a learning mindset helps you to appreciate what is working in your favor (which is very important for having a sense of satisfaction with your life) and also helps you stay focused and rooted in your personal growth.”
Thank you, Dre, for challenging us to build a more innovative, and equitable community.