Women have been hit especially hard by layoffs and job losses throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. On top of that, many moms have quit their jobs to keep up with the demands of taking care of their homes and their kids, creating economic insecurity for themselves and their families.
It’s easy to see why women who remain in the workforce might feel tempted to keep a low profile until Covid-19 is under control … or the kids are back in school full-time … or they’re back at the office after a long stint of working from home. It all feels so tenuous, so why rock the boat?
However, this may be the ideal time to tout your contributions to your workplace—and make yourself more visible and valuable. With tight budgets and streamlined staffs, employers need every worker they have left and are ready to listen to new ideas for boosting their bottom-line results. They’re also finally realizing that the flexible schedules and remote work options women have advocated for years actually benefit both employer and employee alike. Imagine that!
Don’t get me wrong. The last thing I want is to add to women’s already overflowing to-do lists. Rather, I’m trying to counter the understandable impulse for women to mute themselves (and not just on Zoom!) during this challenging time.
Here’s how you can maintain a high profile at work:
Don’t hide your life.
Like the 70 percent of the American workforce who have the privilege of being able to telework right now, I have been leading a remote workforce for more than a year. And believe it or not, I feel closer to my staff than I did in our watercooler-gathering days. Thanks to video conferencing, I’ve laughed at people’s pets and cooed at their babies—and they’ve seen me in ponytails and sweatshirts instead of just the “corporate cutout” in a suit they remember from the office.
The point is: Don’t waste your energy chasing some outdated standard of professionalism. While of course it makes sense to find a relatively neat and quiet workspace, real life has a way of creeping in—and you shouldn’t try to stop it. Far from detracting from some phony “brand,” the texture of your life actually makes you more memorable and relatable to others. Too often, people tout work-life balance when we should be promoting work-life blend. Shouldn’t we all be able to live and breathe authentically at work?
That said, if you’re reluctant for co-workers to see your home for any reason, consider instead using a Zoom background that showcases your personality—or sharing an insight about how pandemic life has changed or challenged you. Chances are someone else has had the same struggle.
Create collaborative opportunities.
One of the difficulties of remote work is the dearth of fruitful conversations that occur by happenstance—the great idea hatched at the vending machine or on the way to the parking garage. In my workplace, we’ve tried to encourage chats like these by launching virtual cross-departmental teams around various organizational projects.
You can do something similar. Host a Zoom meeting in which your team meets with other departments with no set agenda—a sort of digital “open house.” Or follow up individually with people in other departments and career levels to arrange for a catch-up call or virtual coffee break. If you’re time-crunched or Zoomed-out, you could simply ping people to say hi via instant message. These approaches can be particularly helpful if you’re a new hire starting out in an all-remote workplace.
Bosses, take note: When you’re onboarding, create welcoming virtual environments so new team members don’t carry the burden of building community.
Get a word in.
Unfortunately, switching from conference room to Zoom won’t magically erase the entrenched gender dynamics that make it hard for women’s voices to be heard. Bias exists in the virtual world just like it did back in the office. Over the past year, you’ve likely found yourself getting interrupted or ignored at meetings, or experienced déjà vu when a male colleague presented your idea as his own.
Use all the tools available to you to chime in—the chat and hand-raising functions on video platforms, follow-up emails, and “human” resources in the form of allies who will redirect conversations when one person or group dominates. Meeting organizers can help by asking participants to send ideas prior to the meeting and capturing them in their notes.
Hold firm to your boundaries.
You might think that taking on the work of another colleague will get you noticed, but burying yourself in unassigned tasks could make you even less noticeable at work. Instead, schedule a meeting with your boss to explain how expanding your role—and paycheck—will benefit both you and the company. When you highlight your ability to prioritize tasks with a high return on investment, you’ll likely find your organization is willing to make its own investment—in you.
Kim Churches is the CEO of the American Association of University Women, a national non-partisan nonprofit that works to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, education and advocacy