In my previous blog post, I was talking to different Project Managers about their experience and memories that will be taking from the COVID-19 pandemic. During this blog, I want to focus specifically on women and their experience. The reason that I wanted to focus specifically on women was because during my initial discussions there was a greater focus and emphasis on the additional work and mental load that women were doing in childcare, emotional support and additional tasks during the lockdown.
One of the first things that I asked was: What was your experience of the pandemic and working during COVID-19? Sian said: “Within a day, I suddenly became not just a Project Coordinator but a teacher to my two young children and hunter gatherer for our food! My husband is in ‘at risk’ group so he could not leave the house, so I was responsible for standing in hour queues for food at the supermarket and trying to hustle with my neighbours for toilet paper and eggs!”. Another Project Manager said: “My life did not change that much, but as a lot of my colleagues are parents, I found myself working longer hours to accommodate their difficult schedules”. Out of the 10 women that I spoke to, every single one of them said that their stress levels during the pandemic rose considerably as a result of the additional work and tasks that they needed to take on.
My next question was based around multitasking and working whilst managing their children. One of the biggest areas of concern for the women was how they could limit the impact of the lack of schooling on their children and making sure that they were still able to do their job effectively “By the end of the week, I’d be exhausted. I never had one moment to myself and was struggling to get everything done to the standard that I set myself”. It seemed that when it came to the distribution of roles, it was not always equal “I would struggle with my husband picking up more household activities as he was working more hours at his job as a result of having no commute”.
For those without children, the isolation brought additional concerns and issues. The loneliness felt by the lockdown caused deterioration in many women’s mental health and support networks which traditionally could be used, were not there. Jessica said: “I tried to do regular video calls with friends and family but I found that a lot of people were really busy. I really looked forward to my weekly calls with friends and it was a great way to also support my friends who were struggling”.
From the research that I’ve done for this article, the extra mental load that women faced during the pandemic was exponential and in some cases their work did suffer. One Project Manager who has asked to remain anonymous said: “I remember, I was trying to support my son doing his Math schoolwork, whilst take part in an important Conference call AND make dinner. I started to need my daily glass of wine at the end of the day just to relax. I just could not win. No matter what I did or how much I tried to juggle everything, I finished my day with something going wrong”. This person’s experience is not isolated nor unique.
What have these women learned?
So, you might be thinking… what did they learn from all this? Here are a summary of the key learning points.
- It’s important to lean on your network/support
- During lockdown this was not so easy but in countries where the lockdown was not so severe (e.g. Sweden, The Netherlands), it became increasingly important to lean on the support network that exists. If this is more playdates or using school places, then it became an increasingly important point for many women
- Prioritise ruthlessly
- You cannot win and you cannot do everything so you need to make some very difficult decisions about what you are going to achieve today and what will be postponed. This will then need to be communicated appropriately.
- Do not forget your mental wellbeing
- This was one thing that everyone mentioned. The WHO has put together a list of supporting documents that might be relevant or helpful if you find that you are struggling.
- The Washington Post has said nearly half of all Americans have said that “the Coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health”.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- There are some great mental health resources available and if you are struggling then it’s important to ask for help before your mental health takes a serious decline.
As many companies return to normal, life still continues to be very restricted in several locations in the world. This means that the limitations that are in place are likely to be in place for a while longer and we need to continue to adapt to be able to thrive in this “new normal”. I’d recommend that you lean on your network, your partner and family (if applicable) and try to make it through the best that you can. “It takes a village to raise a child”, so don’t be afraid to use yours!