Melissa

What the COVID Crisis Reveals about Women’s Work

Invisible women’s work just became abundantly visible amid the quarantine of the COVID crisis. While sheltered at home, Zoom calls broadcast the juggling act women perform when child-care, home-schooling and working from home all merge into the same time and place. Fluctuating back to school plans are happening as many parents are hitting the burnout stage after struggling to balance remote work and homeschooling for weeks on end. It’s hard to remain responsive to your team and meet the demands of what had previously been a 40 hour per week job and educate, entertain, cook, and care for your children. Video calls have become balancing acts, deadlines a family affair, and advancement? That’s too far down the list to even contemplate – especially as many women are often finding themselves finishing up their workday after the kids are in bed, or in the wee hours of the morning, before their day begins again.

The struggle to get it all done isn’t new, but the pandemic has shone a light on the lopsided division of household labor and highlighted the fact that our current path – even before coronavirus – is not sustainable. Monica Hesse recently wrote in The Washington Post that “we can lobby for equal wages, promoting women, and harassment-free workplaces, but progress toward true equality hinges on chores — the diapers and the dishes and the hundreds of other essential tasks that must be performed, even if we pretend they don’t exist.” She also writes that “We shouldn’t try to return to business-as-usual until we address that “usual” has been pretty sucky for working parents.”

Usually, it’s the women that are bearing the brunt of the increased household labor, and that was true before the pandemic too. There just wasn’t as much of it. Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time says that there is a whole body of research around what’s called “the mental load” that women disproportionately bear.

“It’s all of the stuff that you have to keep in your mind. It’s just an explosion of details and logistics and planning and organizing. And it’s not like laundry that you can see when it’s done. You only know when people haven’t done it, if it falls apart or where somebody has an emotional meltdown,” Brigid said. “Part of the mental load is also this emotional labor, taking everybody’s emotional temperature, making sure everybody is feeling heard and getting their needs met. It can be absolutely exhausting. And when people don’t see it and don’t recognize it and don’t value it, it can be very demoralizing.”

The levels of emotional labor during the pandemic have skyrocketed. Employees are always parenting now, and moms are always working. Researchers at the Council on Contemporary Families found that the number of couples who reported sharing housework had grown by 58 percent during the pandemic, from 26 to 41 percent, and while that increase is notable, we’ve still got a way to go. According to Boston Consulting Group, women are tackling 15 hours more of domestic labor per week than their spouses, and a United Nations policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on women warned that “even the limited gains made in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back.”

To keep things moving forward, we need to look at the opportunities the current state of affairs presents, discover ways we can reshape the workplace to be more supportive, and look at how that will impact families and gender equality. While labor inequalities in the household have been problematic, they’ve also oftentimes started conversations – at home and at work. In a survey recently conducted for Catalyst, 71 percent of working people said they believe COVID-19 will have a positive impact on gender equality in the workplace. In the same survey, 39 percent of people said they see their company “taking steps after the pandemic to enhance gender equity as a priority in the workplace.”

Flexibility should now become a built-in feature of how we work, for women and men, and that doesn’t just mean remote work. Alison Goldman writes in The Lily that flexibility can also mean a four-day work week, or shifting work hours (especially now), and moving forward to better accommodate the difference between office hours and school hours, or the “child-care crisis between 3 and 5 p.m.” She also quoted Manon DeFelice, founder and chief executive of Inkwell as saying, “There’s a whole spectrum of what flexibility can be, and I think it’s up to the company to decide for each role what they’re willing to allow for in terms of flexibility and what those managers are willing to allow for that flexibility.”

Whether at home or in the office, and whether our kids go back to school or not, we need to remember that are connected more than ever before, and navigating these uncharted waters together. We can still support one another in the workplace; we can drop off groceries for a neighbor if we go out, or we can share resources and entertainment ideas for our children with one another. We can lean on one another virtually and should try to use electronic means to connect with another woman every day. Community matters. And most importantly, keep in mind that we are all struggling with this continued uncertainty. These are the times when we need to come together as a community to help each other through. Remember, we’re all in this together.

Unlocking the Power of Gender Diversity

Jenelle CobbIt’s a fact, diversity matters – from the front lines of the workplace to a company’s bottom line. According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, the link between diversity and company financial performance has never been stronger, yet while gender and ethnic diversity are clearly correlated with profitability, “Women and minorities remain underrepresented.” That diversity is key on the executive level too, and McKinsey’s research finds that “gender diversity on executive teams is strongly correlated with profitability and value creation.”

Unlocking the power of diversity for men and women, and overcoming barriers to leadership requires Jenelle Cobb’s special understanding of diversity dynamics. A former software executive turned entrepreneur and business coach, Jenelle works with business leaders as a coach and mentor with a focus on conscious leadership, empowering her clients to accelerate their impact, ignite their teams and make a difference in the health and well-being of everyone involved.

How does unlocking the power of diversity help men, and women? Jenelle said her experiences as a female in very male dominated industry led her to believe that most men don’t know what to do. It’s not that they’re not supportive, but no one has given them a language pattern or a set of standards or behaviors of which to aspire to, or to model.

Encouraging the dialog, and helping her clients leverage the power of their differences across their teams has shown her that diversity can help teams succeed and enable women to do their best work. Jenelle said, “I really care about the gender differences in the workplace and have realized that now I actually get to help men be part of the solution for this rather than blame or shame them.”

With two stepdaughters recently graduating and entering the workforce, Jenelle feels an increased urgency to create a better workplace culture and support everyone’s best work. That’s why she, and her stepdaughter Nikki, decided to put together the Gender Diversity Master Class. “In the Master Class we’ll be talking about diversity and inclusion, creating a more trusting work culture; we’ll talk about empowerment for women, leadership skills in general, and then lastly about male sponsors and allies, calling them out now more specifically than ever,” she said.

“I’ve learned a lot during the Master Class, and one thing was that everyone gets to be an ally. It’s not just men, and it’s not just certain types of men, it’s women and men together,” Jenelle added. “Whether you identify as male or as female, you have a role to play in your work life, as an ally, as a sponsor to someone else.”

Allies can make a big difference in terms of progress. As Dr. Nancy points out in her book, In This Together, “Asking men to help can create significant gains. In 2017 BCG released a sweeping workplace gender diversity study, ‘Getting the Most from Your Diversity Dollars’ that involved more than 17,500 participants in twenty-one countries. Exhibit 5 in the report indicates that 96 percent of respondents reported progress in companies where men were actively involved in gender diversity, compared to only 30 percent at companies where men didn’t actively promote diversity. That’s a huge difference!”

Jenelle agrees and finds that when you leverage the power of all of the differences – not just gender and ethnicity, but skillsets, points of view, work experience, backgrounds, and experiences, you are able to create a better solution or product in the marketplace. “There are more ideas behind it. It’s not a central idea that gets refined to a pencil point; it’s a collection of pens and pencils that all get looked at and discussed. When we start to leverage each individual’s own unique strengths instead of the strength of a single person or point of view, the product and solution just gets phenomenally better. A diverse leadership team delivers better on the bottom line.”

To access Jenelle’s FREE Gender Diversity Master Class, learn how to leverage the power of differences across your team, and empower women to do their best work, register HERE.

Women Connect4Good Empowers Women Through Convoy of Hope

Through the years, Convoy of Hope has seen firsthand that when women are given the opportunity to generate income, it has such a huge impact that not only their families benefit, they also increase their country’s economic growth. That’s why the organization works to empower women around the world to make strategic, independent life choices through community-based training and non-traditional micro-enterprise development, and why Women Connect4Good is helping them continue their important work. 

The situation for women worldwide is dire. According to UN Women  the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, “The majority of the 1.5 billion people living on 1 dollar a day or less are women. In addition, the gap between women and men caught in the cycle of poverty has continued to widen in the past decade, a phenomenon commonly referred to as ’the feminization of poverty’.” 


UN Women also reports, “Women living in poverty are often denied access to critical resources such as credit, land and inheritance. Their labour goes unrewarded and unrecognized. Their health care and nutritional needs are not given priority, they lack sufficient access to education and support services, and their participation in decision-making at home and in the community are minimal. Caught in the cycle of poverty, women lack access to resources and services to change their situation.” 


For the past 10 years, Convoy of Hope has worked hard empowering women and girls. Now operating in 10 countries, the organization had 9,043 Women’s Empowerment program participants in 2019, and has trained 19,400 women to date. 


Convoy’s Economic Empowerment program equips women with financial education, vocational training, cooperative saving groups, and even start-up capital. After receiving training and the distribution of capital for small business start-ups, women participate in income-generating activities as they launch their own small business. Those activities are coupled with self-esteem building activities and education in basic literacy and numeracy, family health and nutrition, family planning, and the prevention of communicable disease. 


The Family Health Empowerment program provides women with educational sessions where they are trained in nutrition, health and hygiene, literacy, small-scale community agriculture, and craftsmanship/cooking. Participants who display consistent attendance receive a month’s worth of food to help supplement their diet at home. This provides additional incentive for women to come and learn, and helps Convoy address the nutritional deficiencies of children who are not enrolled in school. Caretakers, especially those who are pregnant, are provided with vitamins for both themselves and their children. 


Convoy’s Girls’ Empowerment program rounds out their offerings for women and girls and brings educational programs to schools and communities. Sessions include contextually appropriate topics such as self-esteem, gender-based violence, and harmful cultural beliefs and practices.


Dr. Nancy traveled with Convoy of Hope to Ethiopia to experience firsthand how Convoy helps women and girls. The experience allowed her to interact with the women of Ethiopia, and see how job training and education was helping them gain self-esteem and build self-confidence. “With these tools, and with micro-loans, these women can start their own businesses and give better lives to their children” she said. 


Convoy of Hope is doing amazing work, and not only changing the lives of women and children but building strong communities where women’s voices are heard and their contributions matter. They are lifting women up out of poverty and providing tools for supporting their families, their communities and the world. To learn more about Convoy of Hope’s Women’s Empowerment program, and how you can help them #LiftWomenUp, go to www.convoyofhope.org/we

Change Can Create Opportunity for Women, Men and Business

work from homeThe COVID-19 crisis has not only changed the ways we live, work, and play, it has changed the way we earn, learn, and interact with one another. With states opening up, some business leaders are grappling with ways to keep everyone safe, while others are recognizing the benefits of keeping their workforce at home. As everyone adjusts to this current normal, the door is open to create flexibility in our workplaces that makes professional opportunities and work environments more equitable to women and men, and a more profitable new normal for business.

Big business is waking up to work-from-home opportunities. Walmart announced that tech workers don’t have to return to the office anytime soon — or potentially, ever. The decision follows Twitter, which recently told employees that they can continue to work from home “forever” if they’re in a role that allows it. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg also said the company is ramping up hiring remote workers and predicts that 50 percent of its employees could be working remotely within the next five to 10 years. Google has also announced that workers who don’t need to be onsite can extend their work-from-home arrangement until the end of the year.

The work-from-home forever response to COVID isn’t limited to the tech sector. Studies find that as many as half of those employed before the pandemic shifted to working remotely and at companies where remote work is possible, many now expect it to continue for quite some time. So, whether your desk doubles as the dining room table for the rest of the summer or beyond, at three months and counting, remote work isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

This is fortunate as many are thriving in the current workplace setup and are hesitant to return to the office. According to Gallup, three in five U.S. workers who have been doing their jobs from home during the coronavirus pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible, once public health restrictions are lifted. In contrast, 41% would prefer to return to their workplace or office to work, as they did before the crisis.

What Do These Changes Mean for Women?

While many women have long wanted the flexibility that included part or full-time work-from-home, the COVID-19 version isn’t an option they would choose but is one they must endure. Work-from-home coupled with the continued dangers of the pandemic is isolating and hard on those who live alone. Those with children also find it more difficult because of COVID-19, as their supports are shut down and they’re juggling work, childcare, home schooling, and more.

New evidence from Lean In found that since the shutdown, more than half of all women are struggling with sleep issues. Far more women than men with full-time jobs and families say they have more to do than they can possibly handle. This is resulting in increased stress in women’s personal and professional lives. However, men are noticing. While women are juggling as fast as they can, men’s COVID experience of balancing unpaid work with paid work is eye-opening. In fact, a recent study on working parents found that twice as many fathers as mothers described caregiving during the lockdown as extremely difficult and 38% very strongly agreed that they should be doing more of the unpaid work at home.

Harvard Business Review predicts how this might play out for women’s equity, “Because men vastly outnumber women in senior leadership roles in most organizations, this is a golden opportunity for men-as-allies to purposefully leverage their newfound experience balancing teleworking and domestic partnership to truly move the needle on full gender equity. As organizational change agents, male leaders must demonstrate vision, courage, and genuine collaboration with women to rework policies, practices, and systems in order to create a new normal in our post-pandemic workplace, as well as in society more broadly.”

It’s time for these male leaders to become our allies and partner with us to advocate for change and flexibility. These past weeks have proven that work-from-home options are not only viable, but preferable for many, and with the return of societal supports, could be exactly what women need to shake up the traditional five-day-at-work model that comes with the “Motherhood Penalty” we’ve tried to eliminate for so long. We need equitable sick leave, and for our male counterparts to do their fair share when it comes to taking sick kids to the doctor or staying home with them. Of course, we still need affordable childcare too.

This time of great change creates an ideal opportunity for us to level the playing field and make gender equality a key feature of the new normal. Moving forward, women and men need to work together, and employers need to seek ways that blend work and family to maintain high-performing employees, economize of the cost of high turnover and physical office space, and reap the rewards of talent in the right places. We’re all in this together and if we all want to benefit from these difficult times, we need to support one another, be clear with our intentions and look for ways to change crisis into the kind of opportunity in which everyone wins.

Women Connect4Good Challenges Young Women to Succeed

Each year young women around the world take their first college classes and build the foundation for their careers and future earnings. According to the Department of Education since 1982 women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men, more master’s degrees since 1987, and more doctoral degrees since 2006. That’s why Dr. Nancy O’Reilly has put her foundation, Women Connect4Good, Inc., to work to help these young women move forward and succeed.

A college education has become increasingly important for a woman’s success (45% of all jobs currently require a degree) but increasing costs and inadequate financial aid can present significant barriers for many. At Drury University, a private liberal arts university located in Springfield, Missouri, Dr. Nancy O’Reilly and other female leaders are working to change that and make a difference for a number of women who otherwise may not be able to attend the private college.

Dr. Nancy O’Reilly and Judy Thompson

In the Fall of 2019 Judy Thompson, Drury’s Executive Vice President of Development and Campaign Director, approached Dr. Nancy, a Drury alumnus, and asked her for a donation of $25,000 to challenge women in leadership to provide a new or increased gift for scholarships for women. Those who were challenged stepped up.

“We sent the challenge to Drury alumnae who were in leadership roles, and raised over $27,000 from women in leadership positions, including an international scientist and an Ambassador.” Judy said. “We now have over $52,000 in financial aid to support women students at Drury.”

Drury University breaks the mold of single majors and rigid formulas most often associated with traditional education. Students receive a blend of life and career credentials, which allows them to pursue their intellectual passions while giving them the tools they need to be technically proficient and career-ready. Through this combination of professional and non-professional studies, and with the generosity of Dr. Nancy and other alumnae, a number of young women will learn to be flexible, innovative and creative problem solvers with their equally innovative degree program at Drury. They will go beyond traditional education and thinking by blending career, calling, life, community, self and service.

“Dr. Nancy O’Reilly has once again provided an avenue to bring women together to support young women and provide an opportunity for many to choose to study at Drury who might otherwise not have had that choice,” Judy concluded. “It is exciting to think what these women might accomplish in their lives. Thank you, Dr. Nancy, for providing this wonderful challenge!”

Together in This Time of Crisis

“It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets.” – Michelle Obama

This last week has been difficult. The country is reeling. We’ve seen the anger from racism being ignored for too long spill out into the streets in the form of protest. Right now, it would be easy for us to turn away and ignore the pain and rage that is exploding in our cities. It would be easy for us to feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed by what is happening. But what we need, instead, is to come together in support and unity. We need to stand with our Black and brown sisters and brothers, so that we can make sure we are lifting our country up toward equality and justice.

This goes far deeper than you may imagine. Several doctors’ groups — the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and American College of Physicians — are emphasizing that racism is a public health issue and they’re calling for police brutality to stop. The American Psychological Association has also issued a statement calling racism a pandemic.

“We are living in a racism pandemic, which is taking a heavy psychological toll on our African American citizens. The health consequences are dire,” said APA president Sandra Shullman. “Racism is associated with a host of psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety and other serious, sometimes debilitating conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Moreover, the stress caused by racism can contribute to the development of cardiovascular and other physical diseases.”

Gloria Feldt, Co-founder and President of Take The Lead, recognizes that current events lead to high tensions, grief and rage on top of the coronavirus pandemic, but pointed out that Take The Lead stands firmly for equality and parity, and against racism and injustice. Women Connect4Good stands with them. Racism and injustice cannot be tolerated, and discrimination in any form is not okay.

“There’s a special kind of leadership that the world needs now—positive, inclusive, and empathetic leadership that embraces power as the ‘Power TO’ change the world for the better,” Gloria said. “Perhaps this is the moment when together we can lead from the power TO create more justice and more abundance instead of leading from fear—whether fear of losing privilege or fear of losing our lives. We can change the narrative and show the world that there is no finite pie, and when we help each other we all can have more.”

She’s right. When we shift the narrative and help each other, we can use our collective power to move change forward. Hashtags and online discourse aren’t going to cut it anymore. We have to take steps – literally – to change things for the better, and to create a world that is equal on every level.

Dr. Sheila Robinson, Publisher and CEO of Diversity Woman Media, said in Dr. Nancy’s recently released documentary that we need to focus on the things we can learn from and focus on creating more solutions. “I think that what we all want is the same thing – every woman, every race, every culture, every background – we want a safe place where we can work and we can be valued for what we’re worth so that we can share those rewards with our families. We want our children to have great educations. We want safe homes for our families, and we want to be able to support our partners.”

To our Black and brown sisters and brothers, know that we are with you. You matter to us. Your lives matter. You, your family and your friends make our communities better. Together we have the power TO change the world. We stand with you and are working alongside you for change.

 

Building Gender Equality Instead of Returning to Normal

While the country takes steps to reopen, and the news cycles are filled with examinations of society returning to normal, Hawaii is taking steps to rebuild rather than simply return to the status quo. In fact, the state is looking to seize the opportunity “to build a system that is capable of delivering gender equality.”

Hawaii is the first state to propose what it’s calling a “Feminist Economic Recovery Plan,” and some of the basic ideas touted in Building Bridges Not Walking On Backs include raising the minimum wage to a living wage ($24.80/hour for single mothers), the adoption of a universal basic income, universal single payer health care, paid sick days and paid family leave, a restructuring of the tax system, publicly funded childcare for all essential workers, and more.

Hawaii is unique in that it has some of the highest costs for childcare and elder care, and the largest shortage of care services in the U.S., which is why women have pointed out the need for social share infrastructure. The plan, produced by the state’s Commission on the Status of Women, addresses that need as part of a call for “deep cultural change” by explicitly incorporating the unique needs of indigenous and immigrant women, caregivers, elderly women, femme-identifying and non-binary people, incarcerated women, unsheltered women, domestic abuse and sex trafficking survivors, and women with disabilities.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has called COVID-19 “the great equalizer” and this plan out of Hawaii illustrates that it is time to take that point to heart and look at a ways to build a future that sustains us all. The plan states that, “Rather than rush to rebuild the status quo of inequality, we should encourage a deep structural transition to an economy that better values the work we know is essential to sustaining us. We should also address the crises in healthcare, social, ecological and economic policies laid bare by the epidemic.”

Looking beyond COVID-19, the International Labour Organization, UN Women, and the European Union have also called on G7 nations to put measures in to promote gender equality moving forward. Citing the fact that the pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities and exposed cracks in social, political and economic systems, the organizations find that women with care responsibilities, informal workers, low-income families, and youth are under particular pressure.

Hilde Hardeman, Head of the European Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI), said, “We can say that the COVID-19 crisis is gender biased looking at its impact on women-owned businesses, on the burden women are facing during the crisis, at the increase of gender based violence, but the COVID crisis is also an opportunity to rebuild back better. Our efforts should now concentrate on putting women at the centre of the recovery.”

While these past weeks have been a time of personal reflection, we need to revisit that piece of graffiti in Hong Kong that proclaims, “We can’t return to normal, because the normal we had was precisely the problem.”

It’s time to tackle the elephant in the room. As we look ahead, sure, there are personal changes we want to take forward with us – like unscheduled weekends or daily walks, routine self-care, time to make art, time with friends, or watching the sunset. But we also need to look beyond that and address changes that need to be made in the workplace, and systemic changes in our society. We need to take this time to look for ways to close the pay gap, to get more women into leadership roles, to address sexism, and bias. We need to pressure our elected officials to make sure that women have the supports they need to thrive, and to make meaningful contributions to their families and communities. And ultimately, we need to look for ways to tackle these issues together and build a society that is truly gender equal and sustains us all. Now – before things return to normal – we need to pause, take stock, and redefine normal.

 

 

 

What Does Your New Normal Look Like?

A large portion of the country is reopening, and while that can signal a return to the office – at least part time – for many, it won’t be a return to “normal”. We’re going to be leaving our homes for a very different world. And while some people can’t wait for “things to get back to normal,” the question we need to be asking is, “Was that ’normal’ the best that we could do?”

Prior to the pandemic shutdown we were a society on the go. We were a schedule-driven, multitasking mob with goals, agendas, and very little downtime. We defined ourselves by doing, not by being, and wore our busyness like a badge of honor. We scheduled our kids, ourselves, our weekends, and our holidays. We scheduled it all and we were busy, busy, busy. That busyness came at a cost though, it was making us sick. Dr. Susan Koven, Massachusetts General Hospital, noticed the trend and wrote, “In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”

However, early this year that busyness stopped – abruptly –and the time of the great reflection began. Why were we so busy? What did that busyness mean? Why did that busyness matter? And most importantly, what’s next? Our dilemma is global and can best be summed up by a piece of graffiti in Hong Kong that proclaims, “We can’t return to normal, because the normal we had was precisely the problem.”

While these past weeks have been traumatizing, in certain ways they’ve been a gift. We have been able to connect with our immediate and extended families; we’re consistently reaching out to neighbors and friends; we’re reengaging with our communities (from a distance), and we’re focusing on the people that make our lives full. We’re more mindful of our time; we’re focusing on self-care; we’re picking up old hobbies; we’re cooking; we’re making art, and while many of us are still working, we’re not traveling, networking, or engaging in the extraneous noise, or busyness of it all. We’ve been able to enjoy the quiet, and in some ways, are reluctant to let it go.

As we start to look at what’s next and define our new normal, we need to take stock of these past few weeks and evaluate what we want to take forward with us. Is it unscheduled weekends or daily walks? Is it a consistent focus on self care? Could it be a regular opportunity to make art? More time with friends? Or watching the sunset? Now – before the busyness sets in – it’s time to pause, take stock, and ask yourself what you really want. We’re all in this together and if we want to collectively benefit from these times, we need to support one another, be clear with our intentions, and define what we truly want our new normal to look like.

 

Lessons from the Stay-at-Home Order

Work From HomeAs coronavirus cases continue to stack up worldwide, women from every walk of life are having to adapt, rethink, and learn to lead in entirely new ways. COVID-19 knows no borders and refuses to recognize the status quo. “Normal” has been suspended and we’ve traded in our commutes and corporate meetings for working from our kitchen tables while simultaneously homeschooling our children. Or we’re scrambling to find childcare and new supports while we head out to our “essential” jobs.

While some of these changes feel extreme, others feel like a gift.

With the incessant media reports on peaks, flattening curves, and downward cycles, the calls to “open up the economy” and “get back to normal” seem deafening. And while normal – with all of its non-essential wonders – sounds like a great idea, there are parts of the new normal in our stay-at-home worlds worth keeping.

Flexibility

It’s long been known that working remotely benefits women. It takes two of the biggest pieces of a woman’s life – work and family – and makes them fit. If you’ve been told that your workplace does not support remote work, yet your laptop has been pinging nonstop since the stay-at-home measures began, it’s obvious that your workplace can support it – at least part time.

Beyond the constraints of the coronavirus, flexibility needs to work, and provide a path to leadership. As we’ve written, “People with adaptable work environments – both men and women – tend to have healthier habits with time for both self-improvement and family and friends, which makes them more productive and efficient when they work. Flexibility doesn’t just benefit women’s work performance. Research has looked at more subjective areas affected by schedule flexibility, including people’s happiness and satisfaction. Studies show that when people can choose to do things, like take their kids to school, sleep in or help their spouse that they’ll enjoy better relationships, a better quality of life, and be happier with their employment.” In other words, some of the benefits you may be experiencing now, could also have a positive impact on you in the future.

Moving forward, employers need to consider making work and family continue to mesh to maintain high-performing employees. Many women, who started out with all the ambition in the world, find themselves stuck in a place they never expected to be. They do not choose to leave their jobs and they are shut out of upper management by the refusal of their bosses to allow them to fit their family life and work life together.

Connections

While the majority of us have been at home following state and local mandates, many are actually feeling more connected to neighbors, friends, and distant relatives than they did before the coronavirus. We are reaching out to one another, and making frequent connection a priority through increased phone calls, Zoom happy hours or lunch dates with friends, or via social media.

We’re also tapping into our local communities and neighborhoods in new ways. From mutual aid groups on Facebook, to neighborhood apps, we’re supporting one another, and helping where we can. Live music, arts, and entertainment are also bringing us “together” on various live streams, and we’re not only able to enjoy the performances, we’re able to support our favorite artists.

Then there’s the fact that we’re spending more time with our immediate family than we probably ever have. And while that can be stressful (some days VERY stressful), it can also be rewarding. We have the opportunity to re-connect with our partners, and while we may not have ever intended to homeschool our children, being there for their activities and setting routines in the new normal can benefit them, and you. Whether working on projects together or going on neighborhood “bear hunts” there are plenty of ways to engage with one another and make the most of a difficult situation.

As we start to look at ways to get back to normal, now is a good time to prioritize and define what “normal” should look like. Right now, we have something that is often elusive – time. Spend some of it framing what the next phase looks like for you. Will you work smarter, not harder? Push for increased workplace flexibility? Will you try to spend some of your week working remotely? Will you reframe your ideal work/life balance? Will you continue to prioritize connections with your nearest and dearest, and community at large? We’re all in this together and if we want to benefit from these difficult times, we need to support one another, be clear with our intentions and Look for ways to change crisis into opportunity for a work-life balance that fits us–perfectly.

Girl Up Initiative Uganda is Changing Lives

Many young girls living in the urban slums of Kampala, Uganda, struggle with a lack of educational and economic opportunities. In a culture where a male’s education is prioritized, a disproportionate number of girls do not complete school, are often forced marry early, feel like they don’t matter, and lack the skills needed to contribute to their families, which lowers their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Monica Nyiraguhabwa was one of those young women struggling to complete her education until a chance encounter with Kimberly Wolf, a young American woman passionate about girls’ rights and leadership, changed everything. While their backgrounds and circumstances were different, they both related to the challenges that come with growing up as a girl in today’s world and the power of having someone believe in them.

Together, they dreamed up the idea of Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) after visiting Monica’s community and identifying the need to advance educational and economic opportunities for young women and adolescent girls in these slum areas. They named it “Girl Up” because they wanted the name of the organization to reflect their commitment to lifting girls out of a life of poverty and gender inequality. Just as boys are taught to “man up,” the two wanted girls to be taught to “girl up” and realize their power and strength as girls.

What started out as an idea with $100 seed money has grown into a movement in just eight short years. Each year, the number of girls and young women that GUIU helps increases as the organization grows. This year, Girl Up intends to directly help 15,000 girls and young women and equip them with the skills, knowledge, tools, and provide mentorship and support to develop their self-confidence and voice to thrive as leaders in their schools and communities.

“We aim to contribute to systematic change in the community by ensuring that girls are recognized as active agents of change,” Monica said. “By empowering girls, both individually and collectively, to challenge the patriarchal social order, they become spokespersons for girls’ rights and become drivers of systemic gendered change in the community.”

Girl Up has directly helped over 70,000 girls and young women through various programs since 2012 and encourages the girls and young women to share their learnings and acquired knowledge with others who do not benefit from the programs. The girls are also eager to use the leadership skills and confidence they have gained through the program to mentor other girls. Girl Up estimates that each girl will reach an additional five girls, creating positive ripple effects throughout their schools and communities.

Its mission is to create a gender equal world by equipping girls and young women with the confidence, mentorship, skills, and knowledge to reach their full potential. The organization currently has Coaches (facilitators) who not only train girls, but act as positive role models for at-risk girls. Programs include:

The Adolescent Girls Program

GUIU has run the Adolescent Girls Program (AGP) as its flagship program to advance the educational opportunities for adolescent girls aged 9-15 living in urban slum areas in Kampala since 2013. An in-school program, AGP focuses on building adolescent girls’ capacities for individual empowerment and social survival, especially in patriarchal environments that do not value and respect the rights of girls and women. It consists of a cluster of synergistic activities to ensure that girls receive the skills, knowledge, tools, mentorship, and support to develop their self-confidence and voice to thrive as leaders in their schools and communities.

The Big Sister Network

In 2016, GUIU launched The Big Sisters Network, as they recognized that graduates of the AGP needed continued support and opportunities to grow their leadership and influencing capacities. It now ensures that AGP alumni continue to access female- focused education and stay involved and engaged with GUIU and their fellow graduates. In 2019, GUIU realized one of its biggest organizational dreams – the Big Sister Camp – where 210 girls converged for a residential camp full of learning, laughing, and playing. It was a magical four days to honor and further develop the leadership potentials of our Big Sisters. In 2020, they plan to have another Big Sister Camp for 260 promising girl leaders.

Mazuri Designs Hub

Mazuri Designs Hub was first launched in 2015 in recognition of the limited economic opportunities for out-of-school young women in the communities GUIU works with. Uganda’s  70% youth unemployment rate leaves them financially dependent on men and struggling to support themselves and their families. Therefore, Girl Up launched a social enterprise to offer young women skills training that could provide them with a sustainable income. Today, the Mazuri Designs Hub training program offers a one-year vocational training course in fashion, design, and tailoring that is combined with entrepreneurial and personal skills training for young women, ages 16-35 years. The young women are trained by experienced tailors and given the opportunity to showcase their products at the fashion show graduation at the end of the course.  The project advances economic opportunities for the young women and has had a positive impact on their incomes. In GUIU’s 2019 post-project survey, 67% young women reported that their average weekly income had increased after participating in the program, all due to selling products they sewed.

Ni-Yetu Youth Program

GUIU has partnered with Plan International Uganda since 2015 to implement the Ni-Yetu Youth Project in all five divisions of Kampala. The aim of the project is to empower young people, ages 13-24 years, with correct knowledge, attitude and skills for reducing gender-based violence and improving their sexual and reproductive health and rights outcomes. The Ni-Yetu Youth Project is a gender transformative project that looks at challenging negative social norms and practices that affect SRHR outcomes amongst young people. It uses youth innovative approaches such as street theatre performances, youth-friendly health camps, peer-to-peer education, music campaigns, and sports outreaches. While the project reaches out to both genders, it benefits young women specifically by changing attitudes towards gender inequality in the communities they live in. Even though girls and women constitute GUIU’s focus group, the organization understands that boys and men must also be engaged in the fight for gender equality given that they are the other half of the equation when it comes to advancing girls’ rights and ending gender-based violence.

As Girl Up’s programs have grown over the years, their staff has too. “We are proud of the growth of our young, female-led, Ugandan team. Girl Up now employs 20 full time Ugandan staff, 76% of which are female and 85% under the age of 30 years. Providing employment and volunteer opportunities to aspiring and dedicated young Ugandans is an essential part of our mission and the way we work,” Monica said. “These vibrant young people make up the GUIU Dream Team – we dream together, create ideas together, and make change happen together! Each team member brings their own unique skills, talents, and ideas to enable the organization to grow and transform more lives.”

“We have achieved many exciting milestones, and I have been blessed to work in a job I am extremely passionate about. My biggest highlight is seeing the growth and development of our girls as they become powerful and confident young women in my community. Many of them are now in university and secondary school, and stay in touch with me. I love to see how GUIU has impacted their lives in positive ways,” Monica said. “Because I work in the same community that has seen me grow up, they are now seeing me in this position as a woman and a leader. I love going into the community to engage with the adolescent girls and tell them my story to inspire them to re-write their stories so they can achieve their dreams.”

Monica and Kimberly have garnered some international attention for their efforts too and have appeared on NBC’s The Today Show with Michelle Obama in 2018 (see here) and were invited to meet Oprah Winfrey at her home last year. Monica has also had the opportunity to speak up for girls through the Obama Africa Fellowship, Cordes Fellowship, iLEAP Fellowship, and African Visionary Fellowship with the Segal Family Foundation.

People can help Girl Up Initiative Uganda by following and sharing updates through social media platforms (@girlupuganda on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and by subscribing to their newsletter at www.girlupuganda.org. You can also support GUIU’s work to change the lives of young women and girls and donate to their cause at www.girlupuganda.org/donate.

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