Do you feel like this at the end of each day?
With my girls home all the time at the moment, I am taking the opportunity to improve their "life skills". That's what I'm calling it, anyway. I'm also choosing to reframe a lot of things at the moment - during the last week of school, I decided to switch the morning's curriculum to the following: neuroscience (aka Brainchild), social studies (aka going for a walk and seeing humans), PE, (putting Just Dance on YouTube) followed by home science (aka lunch). Anything to get by, really! One afternoon this week, we'd just come home from some 'essential exercise with members of your own household' and I asked them to put their lego and craft away as they had spent much of their day building Elsa's castle and accompanying ice skating rink, a boat and some cardboard box houses. They started working on it swiftly...too swiftly, I thought, so I looked over and saw that they were simply moving it all from the floor to the dining table. "Girls", I said. "What do you think I'm going to ask you next?". "To clear the table for dinner?", Leilani took a guess. "That's right. You're just fixing one problem by creating another for yourselves."
How we have reacted to remote working
I feel like the shift to remote working is having unintended consequences. Our paradigm almost changed overnight, and we found ourselves thrust into a permanent way of working that was so foreign to us, we had no choice but to 'react' to our initial instincts. Our instincts told us, 'you're working separately from your colleagues. You're going to feel alone and disconnected from your peers and your friends.' So we fixed it by incorporating zoom, Skype and Google hangout calls....all day. We get to 4 or 5pm and realise that we haven't actually done any work! True, the face to face time is work, but there are still emails to respond to, assumptions and forecasts to review and analyses to produce. If you have children, or want to fit in their online exercise with the virtual zoom classes their gym is offering, there's also that to figure into our day's equation. So we decide that we need to structure our day more effectively, and we turn to structure and figure out how we can fit it all into our day. We turn to some tried and tested productivity tools, because we realise need to be more productive!
Risk of disconnection -> video calls -> lack of time -> structure & productivity -> fatigue
It is no wonder we're exhausted!
Every time we solve a problem, we create a new one for ourselves
We are trying to work in a brand new way, that may not be our preferred way of working. Our usual outlets aren't readily available and we need to think more about how we're going to get our exercise in for the day, how to recreate corridor chat and banter within our teams, how to get time with our stakeholders who are themselves being tied up in video calls all day. Because the shift happened so suddenly, we've had no choice but to react and respond to the immediate issues, and in doing so we have created new problems for ourselves.
The big blow for women in finance
I've written previously about the challenges that women in finance, in particular, are facing with the current remote working situation. I've expressed my concern that bringing both parties of a relationship into the house to work will allow our unconscious bias around gender norms rise up to the surface: that the man will dominate the space and monopolise the time, whilst the woman acquiesces to his needs. This is dramatic, but the consequences will be if it goes unchecked. In practice, what this looks like is the man gets the office and quiet desk space complete with 2nd monitors, while the woman gets her laptop on the dining room table. The mum gets the home schooling responsibilities while the dad gets to swoop them up at the end of the day for a play. That the male senior finance leader, who has the stay at home wife or mother, suffers from 'corona bias' and sets up the team meetings and deadlines in a way that suits him, but is devoid of any empathy that his team may be in a different home situation. I'm not being inflammatory. I've had lots of feedback about these like, "it's like you're watching me through our window", "do you have a camera in my house?". I'm having these conversations with my women in finance clients and my male finance clients who are dealing with their extra-stressed female team members. This demonstrates to me that this 'working from home' in 2020 is NOT good for women*. I need to be clear here: I'm receiving this type of feedback and having many of these conversations with strong, independent and career driven women. These are women who are proactive in their careers and who are successful in their own right, yet they feel like they can't stake claim to the working conditions that they need to continue to work at their best.
Are we being perceived as 'stay at home mums with side hustles'?
By putting our own careers and priorities second to our partners, are we redefining what a stay at home mum is? What I think is interesting is that by putting ourselves in the same physical state space as our partners, it is actually serving to decrease equality. And this is because of our mindsets: collectively both the mindsets and biases of men and women, as well as our ability as women to communicate effectively and have the difficult conversations that are needed to influence outcomes that are better for us. I think that in addition to the very practical challenges that all finance leaders are facing as a result of working remotely, there is this very scary cultural undertone that is quickly re-emerging and making working life much harder and more exhausting for women in finance.
Here are 3 reasons that I'm finding are most prevalent with my women in finance leaders at the moment, and the solutions that they have implemented to help:
We're not working with our preferences
If you are experiencing uncharacteristic fatigue at the moment, consider the areas you're not working in line with your preferences. What do I mean by that? You may already know that one of the foundations of the work I do with my clients is helping them understand their motivators and preferences at work that occur at a subconscious level. Said another way: I help them identify in detail what they need at work in order for them to thrive, or operate in '5th gear', as I call it. When you're operating in 5th gear, you feel light and have an abundance of energy. As these preferences occur at a subconscious level, when these needs aren't met we (also subconsciously) fight for them, which uses a significantly greater level of energy because it feels like our foot is on the brake - there is a lot of 'friction' in how we work. This friction is what builds up to create the exhaustion you're experiencing.
Solution 1: if you're more drained at the end of each day, think about how you're working and the areas you're working in a way that isn't in line with your preferred style. Consider what you might do to adjust these areas of your day. If they can't be adjusted, consider how you might adjust the time around those areas of your day. Can you set up an activities or tasks around it that do energise you, therefore serving to counteract the friction created? Many of you might be knee deep in reforecasts or workforce planning at the moment. None of that screams fun, but given the state of play these tasks absolutely require your attention. What else can you incorporate into your day to ensure that the time spent looking at worst case scenarios and potential redundancy names and amounts doesn't get the best of you?
We're "leaning in" all the time
Have you caught yourself leaning into your camera during your video calls? How often are you sitting back and letting a call or conversation pass you by? Is there time built in to every virtual meeting you attend for pauses? Thinking? The answer is probably no. If you're not talking, someone else probably is, which means that you are 'on' for every second of that meeting: looking at all the different grids on your screen, scanning their facial expressions, what's going on behind them, trying to 'read the room'. What might be happening is that you're trying to fit too much into each meeting. We're using the technology to help us stay connected and continue to feel part of the team, which is great. But when we're in geographically disparate locations that connection takes longer and is harder. So we need to reduce other expectations of that time - i.e. content.
Solution 2: Use your video calls wisely - the technology is great to help us connect and stay connected with each other. Consider what content or tasks can be achieved outside the video calls, or what portions can be completed before the call, so you maximise the use of the face to face time. Can you prepare the latest cash flow forecast in advance of the call, and ask for their feedback on specific questions before the meeting, so that you can compile and synthesise their responses and the time together can be used for troubleshooting where there are contrasting views?
We're trying to do it all....again
There has been so much effort spent in the past to debunk the myth that women can do it all. We're not 100% of the way there yet, but it's definitely a conversation that we're allowed to have and a mindset we feel (almost) comfortable to embrace. In fact, at one of the International Women's Day events I attended before we were banished to our homes, one of the panellist's own IWD 2020 pledges was, "I will stop trying to do all the things that society believes a female/mother should do and not feel guilty." Are you trying to do it all? The vision that you set yourself at the beginning of the year, do you still have your eye on that prize? Are you still actively working on achieving your best, and engaging the assistance of the people around you - your partner, boss or team - to help you re-set the conditions you need in order to do so? Or have you stepped back, and allowed life to happen to you...
Solution 3: Continue the conversations around your career and professional development needs despite the current context. In fact, these conversations are more important because of the current context. We need leadership, we need positive role models and we need to harness the best of all the diverse minds and skills within our organisations. We need you to hear your voice. You need to be heard. You might find that your 1:1 conversations with your boss have fallen by the wayside to make time for more 'work'. Reinstate them. The great ideas and actions planned off the back of IWD2020 may have fizzled away into the ether. Re-engage with the women in finance leadership lead in your organisation and bring one or two of them back. We cannot lose the momentum and progress that the women in finance of the past and present have invested their blood, sweat and tears to create. We cannot emerge from COVID-19 with a work culture that is favoured towards men. That would be so sad.
Our reactions to COVID-19 have unintended consequences
Many will be short-term and are easily fixed. A few, if they continue to go unchecked, will simply lay latent and insidious, until we realise the new norm features the gender norms of decades past. Yes, we need to get the job done and focus on essential activities and outcomes to keep the business going, ourselves in jobs and the economy turning. However, this is not the time to put gender diversity in the back seat. Gender equality is not a 'nice to have'. It's essential. Your job is to make this happen. Give me a shout if you want to have a chat about the practical implementation of this. A quick 10 minutes may be all you need to create the system you need to have the impact you want. Until next time, take care. *Working from home, at times, can be great for women! I have enjoyed this luxury myself at times. In this article, I am referring to working from home specifically in this current context which has been forced upon us in response to COVID-19
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