Elevating Workplace Possibilities for Women
Julie Howard, Riveron CEO
When I began my career in the professional services industry several decades ago, the world was a much different place for working women.
Board rooms were largely absent of women leaders. The number of female Fortune 500 CEOs could be counted on one hand. With women outnumbered at virtually every level, it was difficult to find examples of women in leadership to turn to for mentorship or support.
Over the years since, I’ve watched and helped champion the rise of women leaders. I’ve been heartened by the advent of diverse voices, while remaining hyperaware that this trend, though encouraging, is not enough.
Then the pandemic hit.
A staggering number of women have left the workforce in the past two years, many to tend to family responsibilities, such as childcare or virtual schooling. Women of color have been disproportionately impacted, with Black and Latinx women experiencing joblessness at increased levels.
The reasons for this departure are clear. Women are more likely to shoulder the brunt of home and family responsibilities and are often first to cede their jobs when personal and professional demands conflict. At the same time, they often take on more behind-the-scenes tasks at work that are less visible but equally important to the health and culture-building of a business. It is this work that often goes unnoticed, unpaid, and comes in addition to regular responsibilities, contributing to burnout and exhaustion.
Unaddressed, today’s pressures on women will undoubtedly lead to greater underrepresentation in the workplace and a reversal of much of the progress we have made in recent years.
In short, working women the world over are at an inflection point.
So what can we do to open more doors for women and enable their success?
Companies that intentionally create an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive will have a more motivated and successful workforce. Not only is this good for women, it’s good for business: According to a Harvard Business School report, venture capital firms that increased female leadership hires by just 10% saw a 1.5% increase in returns. Simply put: With a breadth of perspectives at the table, companies will see the challenges and opportunities facing them through a variety of angles and, ultimately, make better decisions.
But this requires thinking differently and being open to new ways of work. At various points in my own career, I have worked full time, part time, and even no time as I balanced my changing family situation. This was not always easy, but I was fortunate to work for leaders who believed, as I do, that a career doesn’t have to be linear. Through this, I have learned that it’s important to give voice to the things you want and ask for flexibility when you need it—you never know what a company may be able to do. Women must be empowered to make decisions that meet their individual objectives, which may change throughout their career journey.
Today, the tides are turning. Periods of great change and hardship provide a valuable opportunity to reflect on what’s important and determine where a course correct may be needed. They can be a Renaissance time, a chance to look at everything with new perspective. The pandemic has underscored the need for people-first policies that prioritize flexibility and creativity (think: work reentry and job-sharing programs, to name a few) and has reminded us that we can be bold in setting a career path that meets not only our professional interests, but our personal ones.
This can be done in ways both big and small. At Riveron, we recently reconceived our firm structure to introduce new opportunities for emerging leaders. As part of our commitment to diverse and dispersed leadership, we installed a next-gen class of office managing directors and industry leaders in our various market locations, including five enormously talented women. These leaders not only excel at serving clients in the markets and industries in which they operate, but in providing crucial mentorship and team leadership. We know this is one small step in a journey that spans many miles, but it is an important one. For our firm, for our people, and for the next generation of inspiring voices from whom we haven’t yet heard.
It also appears in bigger ways, such as through our women’s employee resource group, which brings together women at all levels of the firm to foster connection and provide opportunities for training and development. Additionally, our Design Your Own Day policy offers all employees the flexibility to build a work experience in alignment with their personal and professional responsibilities. While in-person collaboration will always be an important part of the way we do business, we know that flexibility and choice are essential ingredients to creating more space for women to succeed.
This is just the beginning. There is much more we must do. But everything is ripe for innovation when the structures we once knew begin to fall. The pandemic has produced challenge unlike we’ve ever known, but, for many, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink the way we live. Those with entrepreneurial energy may find that dormant within challenge lie new ideas just waiting to erupt. And leaders will be separated by those who rise to the occasion and those who try to hold on to old ways of working while the world continues to change at breakneck speed.
So this International Women’s Day, let’s let the story we tell be one of new beginnings. We have an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine the world of work in a way that enables women to rise to entirely new heights. And all of us have a role to play.
Amelia Earhart famously said, “the most effective way to do something is to do it.”
Let’s go do it.