As Women’s History Month ends, our celebration of the stellar achievements of women will continue year-round at Allison+Partners.
But we also know these achievements haven’t come without costs – Global Partner + President, North America of Allison+Partners Anne Colaiacovo addressed some of the challenges in her “Working Mother’s Bill of Rights” open letter in PRWeek last year. The COVID-19 pandemic showed us women need companies to play a more active role in integrating work into our lives, versus making women figure out how to find some sort of work-life balance between two equally demanding jobs.
As a mom of twin 8-month-old girls, I try to navigate my new identity as a mother with my old identity as a dedicated “always-on” employee – learning how to be both while returning to the office has been tricky to say the least. To bring this a bit closer to home and get real-world advice, I talked to some senior members of the Allison+Partners Women’s Leadership Program (WLP), a career development program focused on women-specific leadership development topics and activities to enable its staffers to reach their full potential.
Keep reading for insights and stories on navigating being a woman in the post-pandemic workforce from Tara Chiarell (Washington, D.C.), Lisa Rosenberg (New York), Emily Wilson-Sawyer (Los Angeles), Tracey Cassidy (New York), Meghan Curtis (San Francisco), Jill Feldman (New York) and Lauren Bayse (New York).
It’s no secret the pandemic has dramatically altered our views about life, family, careers and the workplace. As we begin the (hybrid) return to the office, what has changed for you?
Tara Chiarell: I feel like the pandemic has made me feel a little less guilty in terms of taking advantage of work flexibility. As a mother of two and a driven female leader, I put pressure on myself to be available, accessible and on-call for everyone at all times. The pandemic has led to greater flexibility and trust between employees and employers – and I’ve given myself more grace and permission to take the time I need for my kids and not feel that personal guilt that I used to. I plan to carry that with me as the world opens back up again.
Tracey Cassidy: The pandemic forced us to reimagine “work.” Right before I had my son I left big agency life because I didn’t see a world where I could have harmony between work life and being a mom. The pandemic showed us the hybrid model is a viable model, and one that works really well for working parents. There’s no more hiding that you’re a parent or guilt that you have other responsibilities. As we begin to move forward, I’m more hopeful on what workplace 3.0 will be.
Lauren Bayse: The pandemic forced me to redefine "ambition" for myself. I’m lucky – unlike many women, I was never taught that ambition was a bad thing and was encouraged to chase every opportunity. And so when I started my career, I went full steam ahead – laser-focusing on every promotion, raising my hand for every single opportunity, spending most waking hours thinking about work. I really wish someone had told me at age 22 that your career isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. By the time the pandemic hit, I was already exhausted! The years and years of "hustle" had gotten the best of me. And so, as the chaos of the pandemic ensued around me and amplified my burnout, I was forced to redefine ambition for myself. I still care greatly about advancing in my career, but I care just as much about taking time for myself every single day, having vacations where I fully unplug, being able to build some flexibility into my days to ensure I'm spending time with my husband, my friends, my mom. I'm still ambitious – my ambition just looks different than it did two years ago, and that's OK.
Meghan Curtis: While the pandemic was devastating from a humanity perspective, it catapulted changes in the workplace by years, maybe decades. Changes that were needed, especially for women and working parents, finally took place. The first thing that comes to mind is greater empathy and vulnerability. I used to hide in a closet to take calls with colleagues when my kids were making noise in the house – why was I doing that, I’ll never know. Then the pandemic happened, and there was no choice but to bring your pets, your plants, your kids, your whole self to work. While it was challenging for people to have all those things happening while trying to work, there was a big light bulb moment – we need to have empathy for what we’re facing in life outside of the nine-to-five. On video, we saw people’s lives outside of work front and center – babies, puppies, everything – and learned how to respect and have empathy for them.
In light of what you’ve learned from the pandemic, how have you found balance in having a fulfilling career while also prioritizing yourself?
Meghan: There’s no such thing as work/life balance. It truly is a blend and every day will look different. But after experiencing the merging of work and life during the pandemic, now I may take a call on the way to a pediatrician appointment or while I’m taking a walk outside and won’t feel bad about it. There are times I know I’ll lean more into my family or myself and work might take a backseat – and I just need to be at peace with that. And some days it will be more about work, and I won’t feel guilty about not being able to do both at one time. Beyond just those with kids though, I’m hoping everyone will prioritize their health and mental health post-pandemic.
Lauren: Speaking on behalf of those without kids, I am still not very good at this! But knowing I am not good at prioritizing myself has helped me improve. Because I am not a parent or caregiver, I so quickly fall into the trap of, "I'll just keep working because I don't have other responsibilities outside of work." Knowing this is my tendency, I have actively asked my husband and friends to hold me accountable. They ask me questions like "do you really need to still be working, or can you take a walk instead?" This level of accountability is so helpful. Also, I'm a big advocate of therapy – it's helped me get slowly better at prioritizing myself and my needs, personally and professionally.
Emily Sawyer: It really is a constant struggle. I feel like I put my job and my family before myself all the time. In 2022, I’m really trying to find little moments and things that I’m passionate about to prioritize myself. One way I’m doing this is by setting up regular tennis every Thursday evening with a group of working moms. That’s my dependable “me time,” and it’s been my moment of sanity. We started during the pandemic and have this time when we’re more than parents or employees – we’re tennis players!
Jill Feldman: Once I got through the initial period of the pandemic where everyone was on all the time and it was complete insanity, I really did start carving out time for myself because I had to. Now I wake up way too early in the morning so I can have time to go on a run or be alone and do whatever I want to do for an hour. For me, it has to be intentional. I have to plan it out. And now that we’re emerging again, I’m going to make recurring appointments for self-care. Whether it’s a yoga class or a trip to the spa, I’m scheduling that time I need for myself again.
Switching topics a little bit – many young women starting out in their careers have felt that being female has impacted how others view them at work. Have you experienced barriers as a woman in the workplace and how have you worked to overcome them?
Tara: There have been times when I’ve shared an opinion or recommendation, and then a man will reiterate what I said and people will take it as a new good idea. I learned to portray more confidence, and really work to make myself heard in the room. Annie [Colaiacovo] has done such an amazing job for people at this company to remove those barriers and ensure women have visibility and are heard.
Meghan: Similar to Tara’s experience, while it’s never been within A+P’s walls, there was a point my career more than 10 years ago where I could be in a conference room with clients and a few male colleagues – some more junior and some more senior to me – and I would communicate my thoughts or strategy recommendations and it wouldn’t immediately resonate with clients. As soon as a male colleague jumped in and backed it up or said nearly the same thing, clients would take it seriously. Interestingly, this happened with both female and male clients. Now, I believe this new generation of women leaders (and clients) advocate more for women – they want to hear from everyone, including the most junior person in the room, and give them the space to speak up.
Jill: Like Meghan, I experienced that more earlier on in my career, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, especially when I did more work in specific sectors that are more male-dominated. I was often the only woman at a meeting, and often the youngest, and did feel like people treated me differently. At the time, my strategy was just to be more prepared than everyone else. I always try to give everyone a chance to share their perspective or ideas – some of the best ideas we’ve had for accounts come from the most junior team members and I want them to feel empowered to share them and be creative.
Lisa Rosenberg: For me, early on I experienced disparity based on my age or that I looked young, and maybe that was compounded by being a woman. I felt that I was looked at as a kid, and felt like I had to punch above my weight with my smarts or creativity in order to be heard. Now I think people look to both young and old for ideas that drive forward industry, creativity and innovation.
You all are mentors for so many young women at A+P but inquiring minds want to know – who are your biggest female mentors, and what advice have you gleaned from them?
Lauren: I am so lucky to have quite a few mentors – several of whom are quoted in this article! I think the most common advice I've received from my mentors over the years is the importance of building your own personal "hype team." Friends, spouses, parents, managers, work peers, direct reports can all be part of your personal hype team. This is a "panel" of people who you trust for advice and counsel, and who can help encourage you to advocate for yourself when imposter syndrome comes knocking.
Meghan: I’ve had a few amazing female mentors. At my first job out of college, I had someone who was just ahead of me on her career path who really set me up for success. Right out of the gate, she was such an advocate. She spent time coaching me, walking me through feedback and affirming my confidence, which is so important at an early stage of your career. As I became more senior at A+P, I approached Anne [Colaiacovo) to be my mentor because I needed help figuring out how to navigate work as a new mom. She was absolutely critical for reframing how I thought about my day to day and my career trajectory. She also helped me set boundaries, as I was the type of person who would be happy to work very long days just to get ahead on my next day’s and week’s work and that simply couldn’t happen any longer with a baby at home!
Tracey: There’s not just one mentor for me either. I look for insights and guidance from women leaders in my world and the broader universe. I love the quote from Tina Fey, “Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” For a long time I would mull over decisions and in doing so, doubt would creep in. In recent years, Fey’s words have become my mantra. It helps squelch doubt, keep me focused on the positive and channel my inner confidence.
Tara: One of my mentors is actually one of my first bosses – she was a “shatter the glass ceiling” type of woman and such a badass leader. She helped me gain confidence, learn how to speak to clients and how to navigate corporate life. I’ve also learned from Sheryl Sandberg to always take a seat at the table. If you walk into a conference room, get that visibility and share your opinion, never feel like you need to hide or disappear.
Kelly drives strategy and execution for world-class brands with an emphasis on telling compelling stories and creating inspiring campaigns that move consumers to action. She leverages her experience across a wide range of consumer categories to provide media relations strategy and execution, influencer program support, thought leadership content and event management