Courageous Conversations: The She-Cession and Caregiving Through a Pandemic

Courageous Conversations March 25 flyer

By Lucy Cross, Senior Manager, Communications at VMLY&R

April 7, 2021

Women are dropping out of the workforce in record numbers, and many of them are working mothers or caregivers. Losing these women and their talent will have a huge impact on our businesses, industry, and economy. VMLY&R and Luminary brought together several incredible women for an honest conversation about working and caregiving in this current moment.

Debbie Ellison, global chief digital officer of VMLY&R Commerce; Jennifer DaSilva, president of Berlin Cameron; Tasha Gilroy, executive director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at VMLY&R; Shali Wade, executive director, office of the global CEO at VMLY&R; and Katie Klumper, CEO of Black Glass Consulting discussed successes and obstacles of caregiving, and how leaders and companies can address this challenge.

Here are a few of their takeaways:

Supporting Our Clients Means Supporting Our Talent

Gilroy has seen so much progress in the last decade when it comes to placing women in leadership positions and managing the business. But all that work, energy and effort has been  unraveling since last year as women continue to leave the workforce.

“We have a business responsibility to our commitments to our clients,” Gilroy said. “But we also have a responsibility to our talent. We’re going to have to shift how we work, whether that means flexibility or additional staffing. And then we have to have those same conversations with our clients to help them understand why we need additional teams, resources or altered timelines.”

DaSilva went a step further and addressed the need for established boundaries.

“We’re good at talking about boundaries to our people and within our business, but nothing is going to change unless we talk to our clients about those boundaries,” DaSilva said.

Be a Student of Resilience

One of the most difficult things about being a woman in the workplace is the pressure to avoid making mistakes, which is heightened in the current climate. But living authentically and learning how to rebound from mistakes can give you a resiliency for everything your career throws at you.

“The more we can teach each other about how to make mistakes, the better,” Wade said. “Embracing the things that don’t go your way is tough, but it can build resiliency and give you a valuable experience for the future.”

Ellison addressed the importance of being open and transparent with your team and coworkers.

“It’s not doing anyone any service to act like you’ve got it all together,” Ellison said. “My advice is to not find your authenticity too late. I found mine too late, and I kept all my struggles repressed for a long time. If I’d been open, there are so many amazing women who would have leaned in and helped.”

Be Brave Enough to Acknowledge What You Need

When the pandemic hit, DaSilva was stuck in a New York-sized apartment, juggling two kids and a huge client project. In that moment, she had to decide what she and her family needed. That meant a cross-country move to be closer to family, a decision that gave her the necessary extra support.

“Sometimes we’re not brave at telling our teams that we need them to help, or to intervene, or to step in,” Ellison said.

Recognize Women’s Triple Burden

When Ellison’s daughter was studying sociology, Ellison was introduced to the concept of the “triple burden” women carry. Women in the workforce not only juggle a career and caregiving, but they also often handle the bulk of administrative duties for their families. Whether it’s planning birthday parties or scheduling doctor’s appointments, a recent study from McKinsey found that these responsibilities add 20 hours to a woman’s work week. That’s another part-time job.

“As leaders, we have to recognize the nuances, stresses and strains that our teams are under,” Ellison said. “We have to be more wholistic, and emotionally support our teams in addition to fostering career development. We have to recognize when our people are suffering or struggling.”

Be Bold Enough to Reach Out, Then Pay It Forward

Women connecting with other women is one of the most important ways we can support each other. Even as everyone is juggling more than ever, make it a point to reach out for a hello or a quick coffee.

“I say yes to everyone who reaches out,” Gilroy said. “And you never know who might lead you to a different way of thinking about the way we approach the work we’re doing, especially when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

“Never deny those requests to connect,” DaSilva said. “It might seem overwhelming, but you just never know where that connection may lead. Doing things that put you out of your comfort zone is so meaningful in your career because you never know who will be on your board of directors or become a great friend.”

This time of upheaval also presents opportunities to support, inspire and connect with other women. 

“This is a time for us to be innovative,” Ellison said. “As people, as leaders, as women. It’s a time to use all the things that make us wonderful, resilient, and empathetic to change leadership and change the landscape of our teams for the better — and keep women in the workplace.”