Over the holiday break, I was searching through past pictures thinking about how much my life has changed. Parties, panels, networking events, new connections, hugs, handshakes, shared meals, and more have shifted to virtual walks, virtual meetings, virtual wine, and virtual everything. Through it all, one thing stayed the same: my desire for connection and the need for my support system virtual or in person.
Before the pandemic started, we were already well into a yearly month-long program I’d started called #Connect4Women, designed to help women build stronger networks. Even though my heart was still in the right place, and I wanted to keep connecting other women, it felt draining.
Our community managed to make more than 500 connections in March despite the pandemic, but I figured if it was a struggle for me, it was for other women, too. I was right: According to a recent survey of 1,000 women by DeVries x Dynata KNOW, 88% of respondents felt that there has never been a more important time to help women. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the U.S. economy — but it’s hit working women the hardest. In 2020, women have been twice as likely to leave their jobs to take care of their families, and this SHEcession is threatening to widen the pay gap by another five percent.
Despite wanting to help, a majority (67%) of women in the survey felt that the pandemic has made it more difficult to do so. There’s been the challenge of physical distance, as well as the responsibilities (child care, elder care) that have been thrust onto womens’ plates as facilities have shut down. I even heard the sentiment on a recent virtual get-together for #Connect4Women: Many of the attendees admitted that they dreaded another Zoom call, but because they knew it was for them, they wanted to show up.
So how can we make it easier to help each other? I’ve found that giving people an actionable, attainable goal helps. Otherwise, it’s too tempting to fall back on excuses like “I don’t have time.” Melissa Barker, Founder and CEO of Women Entrepreneurs, Inc. agrees: “In order for #womenhelpingwomen to be more than just a trendy hashtag it requires us to take action. The challenge is, while women want to support each other, we don’t always know how or have the time. It can be as simple as liking someone’s post, making a warm intro, or as big as giving a free consult or sharing a valuable connection.”
Whether grand gestures or small check-ins, there are so many ways we can support ourselves and each other, even during this difficult time. Here are some actionable ideas:
TAKE ACTION FOR YOURSELF
If you don’t feel 100%, connect for your mental health and the mental health of others. On our #Connect4Women Zoom meeting the other night, we talked about gratitude, and people were so vulnerable in what they shared. We supported each other, passed the virtual Kleenex, and felt less alone after we opened up to each other. In one meeting, someone said to me, “Jen, you seem to have it all together,” and tears started running down my face. Immediately the community started cheering for me, and the overwhelming lump in my throat felt eased and I knew that even if I didn’t feel together this community would lift me back up and help me. Since then, women have reached out to me saying how special the Connect4Women community is and have asked to help. I’ve now formed a “Board of Connectors” to help me bring this vision to life without totally overwhelming me. Catherine Connors, CEO of League of Badass Women said, “I’ve had women show up to offer support in my work (building a company) and in my personal life (sending care packages when a relative died; holding space when I just need emotional support around being overwhelmed).”
Join a community that squarely aligns with your passion points. “I have joined several private networking groups that offer needed community virtually along with real-time resources for growing my business,” said Katie Fogarty, founder of The Reboot Group. Check out communities like Wie Suite (for female executives), Fly Female Founders (for female entrepreneurs) or Luminary (the intersection of corporate and entrepreneurs), and pick one that speaks to you.
Find a community that allows you one-to-one or small group connection to really dive in. Some communities even have small networking cohorts: Ellevate Network was one of the first communities to truly deliver on the impact of virtual networking, and its community of 150,000+ professional women has been building networks, and gaining support during this time via weekly expert-led roundtables, mentoring meetups, workshops, and Squads. Ellevate Network CEO Kristy Wallace says, “Our Squads meet 30 minutes a week for twelve weeks, and the relationships forged during that time are incredibly strong and long-lasting.”
TAKE ACTION FOR OTHERS
Make an introduction. Sending an email takes only minutes, but it can be incredibly valuable and give a mental boost to a friend or colleague who needs one. “Once I was brave enough to be vulnerable and talk about what was going on in my head and heart, I found women opened up their networking. I got a lot of, ‘You know who you should talk to…’ I am so blessed to have met so many wonderful women,” said entertainment executive Missy Rentz.
Offer your wisdom. Whether it’s big-picture strategy or tips on how you’ve managed working from home, we all have something to contribute. Share what you’ve learned on online forums, or simply friend-to-friend. Every little bit counts. “The group texts and message threads of various circles of women in my own orbit have been lifelines for many — from support around jobs lost and found, to decisions about child care and schools, to issues addressing mental and physical health,” said Rebecca Ballard, Managing Director of Purple Strategies.
Support brands that support women and fight for gender equality. In the survey, 82% of women felt that brands should be or need to be helping women with career advancement. “I love working on purpose-driven brands. At No7, we’re continuing our tradition of helping women through our new #UnstoppableTogether campaign. It celebrates the power of women when they join forces and aims to turn this #SHEcession into a #SHEcovery,” says Anisha Raghavan, Chief Marketing Officer Americas, Global Brands at Walgreens. “The campaign includes a free one-day virtual Job Summit and coaching sessions with iconic speakers, designed to help women get back on their feet and back into the workforce. We hope this brings meaningful change to women’s lives while also inspiring other brands to take real, tangible steps to help women get back to work.”
We need to support and fight to connect, for both ourselves and for others. As 2021 begins, we unfortunately aren’t leaving the pandemic or the Shecession behind, and we can’t let three decades of progress be wiped away. Setting small goals for yourself — whether it’s committing to connect two people a day, one virtual coffee/wine chat a week, or shouting out a female-owned business once a week on social media — makes network and community-building even more attainable. I like to remind myself that progress is made in small steps, not huge leaps.
In Brene Brown’s podcast “Dare to Lead” featuring Abby Wombach, she said, “We’re definitely better together.” We are better together when we connect and when we connect each other. And we’ll see actionable results for ourselves, for others, and for society.