We entered the new decade filled with optimism and renewed motivation to fight the good fight. But COVID-19 has upended life as we know it, limiting the everyday personal freedoms we take for granted and bringing the global economy to a virtual standstill. As one of my kids put it, Mother Nature has put us all on a colossal time out, forcing us to reflect on what we’ve done and how, in the future, we can do better. For those of us privileged to have this time to stop and reflect, it’s for the good of all humanity that we do precisely that. In some ways, we’d be irresponsible if we did not do so. Since March 31st marks the end of Women’s History Month, I’m particularly inspired to think about a new future where women experience a new place of increased respect and appreciation in our society. Here are some hopeful predictions.
Respect for women warriors on the frontline. In recent weeks, our current economic reality has been compared to wartime. In WWII, women were granted access to participate in the economy out of necessity; from that moment we never looked back.
This time around, women are the warriors on the frontlines battling a global pandemic. 70 percent of global health professionals are women and, in the United States, which is proving to be one of the epicenters of the crisis, women represent 80 percent of the healthcare workforce. You could argue that this is the first world war that is being fought predominantly by women.
As these brave and committed individuals work tirelessly to save lives, I am hopeful that their skills and role in protecting our society will rise to the same heroic status we reserve for our troops, our police officers and our firefighters. While these largely male-dominated professions remain worthy of our admiration and respect, I’d like to think that, finally, we will elevate our healthcare workers to the place they deserve in our community and society.
And, just maybe, at last those other fearless warriors who go to battle everyday to educate our children will be recognized and better compensated as well. As millions of us become homeschool teachers, we can appreciate finally how much passion and patience it takes to inspire and develop young minds.
I am hopeful that this is the moment that teachers, nurses and other underappreciated professions start getting paid what they are worth, finally. I look forward to watching this moment in time shine a light on millions of women around the globe who are fighting the good fight and are fundamentally altering how we unapologetically take up space in the world.
Women will get the recognition they deserve as pragmatic problem-solvers. Around the globe, women are rolling their sleeves up to mitigate the coronavirus risk across all industries. In the US, the teams of Nurx, Carbon Health and Everlywell are diving in to expand COVID-19 testing capabilities. The founders of the Wing in New York are opening their offices for coronavirus relief efforts in the city. In light of social security offices being closed due to the pandemic, Anthemis portfolio company Kindur is offering help to individuals to navigate social security and retirement savings in uncertain market conditions. This type of leadership will be the standard by which we judge other aspiring entrepreneurs for generations to come. While female-founded businesses generate more than two times as much revenue per dollar invested than those founded by men, only 2.8 percent of all venture capital in 2019 went to all-female startup teams last year. Finally, we will start seeing a shift in how these businesses are funded.
A new era for work-life balance and gender equity. When asked about my own experience balancing work and life, I’ve always been quick to bust the myth of the superwoman. As a working mom who is privileged to have a strong family unit at home holding the fort regularly, I can appreciate fully that the ‘it takes a village’ thing is very real. It’s been heartening to hear more and more stories of families and partners who are getting the balance of household and childcare duties right but, let’s face it: in the majority of homes around the world, this burden still falls largely to mothers, regardless of whether they are running the household or working full-time.
Right now, there are many working parents living a very extreme version of balancing home and work life obligations, with the added pressure of homeschooling. In the long run, I’m convinced that this almost universally shared experience will foster more empathetic, inclusive workplaces and will begin to undo the belief subscribed to by many in the tech and startup communities that hustle culture is the only path to success.
Moreover, children are getting a front row seat to see what their parents’ day-to-day work life looks like. This will create further opportunities for breaking down generational gender barriers and alter children’s perception of what a typical career looks like.
In uncertainty, we rally. On September 11th, 2001, I was one of a small few who were not in the office when a plane hit the floors of the building my company was based in. In the days, months, years and decades since, I have been asked often how we could have possibly rebuilt the company amidst such unfathomable circumstances. My answer then is the same now: we had no other choice. Rallying together, focusing on the here and now of saving the company, participating in rebuilding the economy, giving profits back to the families of the colleagues we lost was the only thing that could get us through an otherwise trying and sometimes traumatic time. Eventually we did come through it, not just my colleagues but all of us. In September 2008, when the financial markets collapsed leaving so many of our society jobless, homeless and without hope, we rallied again. New businesses were born, new ways of working and thinking were embraced but, more importantly, new behaviours and ways of taking care of each other emerged as they will with these new challenges.
This pandemic has exposed the weakest points of our healthcare system, our financial system and our general way of life and will most certainly have far-reaching and potentially long-lasting implications. But as I take my “time out” to reflect and learn, I can see a brighter future on the other side: a more diverse set of leaders, respect for the female warriors on the frontlines, a focus on building resiliency into our system and a level of gender equity we’ve not yet seen. And that’s a lesson worth learning.