Observing this past month of May where we celebrated Mental Health Awareness, it is vital to reflect on the general state of wellness impacted by the pandemic and quarantine. We do not want to labor into another disparaging article about the statistical impacts that sudden loss, sustained periods of doubt and uncertainty, and isolation (among other effects) have had on our health outlook. Instead, we want to encourage you to remember the incredible obstacles we have overcome through the course of quarantine 2020, as we return to a semblance of what our life was before.
While some are bold to make the leap, others are understandably hesitant to re-enter an inevitably changed world. They are weary of returning to a state of blissful ignorance and remain cautious of their people interactions despite substantial progress in projected health outcomes. They still carry trauma from the suddenness of the quarantine order, shutting down our economy and livelihood many depended on. And, this fear of dire consequence drives a delayed expectation of gratification that has permanently changed how we approach mindfulness, connecting with others, and how we seek enjoyment outside of our professions.
In spite of this, we are seeing major improvements in public mental health acceptance. Undeniably, the time spent in isolation or confinement awakened space to identify and face some areas of trouble we faced prior to 2020. We had to put in the tough effort to derive comfort from ourselves and continue to build self-originated hope. Whether we carried in mental health issues from our past or were confronted by new ones, it is more visible to us how our stress, low self-worth, or low trust impede our day-to-day tasks.
Going forward, we must continue to prioritize mental health wellness and take action, not retrospectively, but because we deserve positivity and assurance about our progress. We deserve to pursue happiness in tandem with our responsibilities. We deserve to disrupt business to introduce intervals of peace, creativity, and freedom. These are all necessary pursuits.
Intersectionality has been a commonplace phrase in the feminist realm since Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in 1989. Essentially, it refers to the notion that the combination of different identities – age, race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality dramatically influence the way people experience the world. The intersection of these identities contributes to the obstacles and/or privileges that those who share some but not all identities may experience.
Too often, human resource stakeholders fall into the trap of the one size fits all approach. Its appeal in simplicity sacrifices efficacy. These one size fits all approaches for women in leadership aim to solve the challenges for white, middle-class, cisgender women. The Western default. Which leaves out doubly or triply marginalized women as a result. As organizational demographics evolve, they leave out more women than they aim to benefit.
According to research conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. in 2019, women make up 38 percent of frontline leader-level positions in the United States and Canada. White women hold 27 percent of these manager roles and women of color only hold 12 percent. The disparity is even greater at the executive level. White women hold 18 percent of roles while women of color hold 4 percent.
These discrepancies are due to a large disfunction of systemic and cultural barriers, not just failed women advocacy programs. Infusing intersectionality into policies and practices aimed at advancing women in leadership can help.
How can we do better?
Embracing intersectionality means embracing variety which adds an element of complexity. To ensure an environment where everyone can thrive because of their differences, follow these three steps:
1. Ask the Experts
The ideal approach is to have a diversity and inclusion expert with a focus on human-centered design to solve persistent and painful challenges with an empathetic perspective. Applying these principles to intersectionality and women’s advocacy efforts ensures the correct focus. The women leaders that are the goal are experts in their own experiences and challenges. Opening a dialogue creates space for these women to tell you exactly what they need without any guesswork.
2. Diverse Populations Deserve Diverse Solutions
It is necessary to tailor approaches to fit different populations to achieve satisfaction. Equality is about giving everyone the same level of support, but equity requires different supports for different situations.
3. Use Multi-Dimensional Metrics to Track Multi-Level Impact
Lean on metrics, track engagement, retention, promotion, salary, and representation to measure the success of empowering women leaders. It is important to look at the data from a demographic perspective to see if the efforts positively impact all women. If efforts to advance women leaders are working for certain groups disproportionately, it is important to investigate and reevaluate accordingly.
In July 2020, Harvard Business Researchers surveyed a group of 2,500 working parents to assess the importance of the (declining) childcare industry in supporting the reopening economy, following the Covid-19 outbreak. The study held by fellow professionals and mothers – Alicia Sasser Modestino, Jamie J. Ladge, Addie Swartz, and Alisa Lincoln – aimed to examine the impact felt by the 50 million parent U.S. workforce with children under the age of 14. The results presented that 20% of working parents across low and high-income brackets had to leave work or reduce their hours because of the lack of childcare. Of them, nearly a third claimed it was down to the “more capable parent,” while less than a quarter decided based on income bracket.
Why is this an issue?
The survey displayed a heavy lenience towards traditional gender roles, and found that 26% of women surveyed were expected to step-down from their work roles. In addition, the expectations of the role of an active mother and breadwinner have only surmounted for single mothers and women of color. The survey showed that women were more likely to reduce hours at work if they were Black, or if they were single, divorced, separated, or widowed. The report subsequently argued for businesses to assume the responsibility for arranging childcare, as opposed to individual employees. Seeing the weighted and incredibly meaningful contribution of women in the workforce – plus, the possible addition of 5% to the U.S. GDP – it is crucial for companies to address these inequities for working women parents.
In September 2020, the Birmingham Business Alliance compiled a list of resources to support parents managing their work and homeschooling pressures, including YWCA’s School Support Program, The Levite Jewish Community Center Day Camps, and YMCA and similar community center services. Wyndy offers an app to connect local nannies and sitters to parents in need of childcare services. Additionally, Childcare Resources’ is a Central Alabama agency connecting families to over 700 childcare programs that fit their needs.
“Women earn less because they take time off for motherhood.”
The census data collected by the National Women’s Law Center in 2019 calculated that women lose an average of $16,000 a year due to the “motherhood penalty.” Mothers in the U.S. earn 24.8 percent less than their paternal counterparts. Mothers also have to deal with employers that harbor certain biases. Employers have stereotypes about the value of mothers as employees. They are perceived to be less committed to the job, less dependable, and more emotional. This discriminatory thought process plays a significant role in the limitations for working mothers.
This bias includes these mother’s coworkers as well. A 2018 study conducted by Bright Horizons, which operates over 1,000 early education childcare centers in the United States, found that 41 percent of employed Americans perceived working mothers to be less devoted to their work than single women. Over one-third judge working mothers on their inflexibility. The number of women worried about announcing their pregnancies bosses and coworkers has nearly doubled from 12 percent to 21 percent since 2015.
“Women choose lower-paying careers so it makes sense why men make more money.”
Women do choose lower-paying careers in comparison to their male counterparts. Those careers being paid lower is part of the problem. Young girls are steered away from certain subjects from childhood by their parents, teachers, and peers. From a young age, boys are expected to be better in math and science. These fields typically result in higher pay. Girls are encouraged to enter into “traditional” careers as a result of this bias.
Women don’t choose low-paying jobs. Society values women’s work less. Job industries dominated by women pay less than those dominated by men. For example, teaching, especially early childhood, is a field dominated by women. The work is insanely hard and demanding, it requires certain skills and educations, and the success of future generations depends on their shoulders. Yet, because these teachers are mostly women, the pay is not proportional to the demand of the job.
“Saying a woman makes 77 cents for every dollar a man makes is an exaggeration!”
Comparing the difference in annual earnings between men and women finds that women make about 23 cents less per dollar than men on average. These statistics are even less favorable for women of color who on average earn significantly less than their white coworkers. Looking at weekly earnings between men and women, the figure is a little smaller, around an 18 cent difference.
When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1959, women were only making 59 cents on the dollar. That figure rose to 77 cents by 2004 and has increased by less than half a penny annually.
At some point or another, every woman has heard these three statements in her career. The issue with these statements is that they make women intentionally feel like second-class citizens in a patriarchal society that perpetuates fictional beliefs that harm women in the corporate sector.
On February 22nd, 2021, the Birmingham Business Journal hosted a free Webinar themed “BizWomen Mentoring Monday.” The 90-minute round-table coaching session presented the opportunity for women to engage with and learn from 44 pioneering Birmingham businesswomen (featuring our own: Barbara Burton, Joy Carter, and Teresa Shufflebarger). The general leadership development session was followed by breakout sessions and a Q&A. This event is one of 40 ones across the country overseen by the national news publisher, American City Business Journals. The events are swelling support for women to meaningfully network with incredible numbers: 1,700 mentors and 8,600 mentees.
Barbara Burton is the President and Founder of the Chalker Group, a women-run firm that aids with the recruitment of bright talent for local businesses and organizations. By facilitating resources and ways to connect with our lovely city, Barbara has successfully curated meaningful experiences for candidates and their families.
We are lucky to know Barbara as a graduate of our Executive Class 17 (spanning 2019-2020) – their group were the pioneers of our online classes due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Barbara’s community-orientation carries beyond her work. In addition to being recognized by Leadership Birmingham (2015) and Leadership Alabama (2016), she has been a board member for the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the Rotary Club of Birmingham, and the UAB O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Teresa Shufflebarger was recently appointed to be the VP and Chief Administrative Officer of Live HealthSmart at UAB. The platform aims to create statewide partnerships and initiatives with a mission of elevating Alabama out of the bottom ten for national health rankings. Teresa previously served as the System Vice President for Baptist Health System (between 2004 and 2015), and became the Chief Strategy Officer for Brookwood Baptist Health before embarking as Founder and CEO of Allegro Partners.
We are lucky to know Teresa as a member of our Executive Class 11 (spanning 2014-2015). She carries a wealth of passion and knowledge for improving health access, and we are excited to see the ways she continues to flour side as a healthcare leader in the Birmingham community.
Please join us in congratulating these women and their fellow mentors. To learn more about the event or see a catalog and bio about each mentor in the cohort please click here.
They say hindsight is 2020. I don’t know about you, but looking back on this past year, things are kind of blurry.
What I do know with great clarity is that the COVID-19 pandemic has tested us, pushed us, made us pivot, and strangely brought us closer together even as we must stay physically distant. What a strange time. While the pandemic is not over, 2020 will be over very soon. There are days I want to forget it, but most days I feel deep gratitude for what I have learned and what we have been able to accomplish together. It is in that spirit of gratitude that I offer a retrospective Momentum 2020.
Q1 2020 – Your Vision, Your Future
Q1 was all about preparing for Momentum’s most expansive conference ever. It’s hard to believe that as we were loading into the BJCC, we were fielding calls about whether or not the conference would happen, getting updates on speakers, learning to wipe down everything we touched, insist on elbow bumps, and more. Still, we had 1,200 attendees, hosted nearly all of the scheduled breakouts, introduced three amazing keynote speakers, and had 100% participation by our EXPO hall partners. Since the conference, I’ve had many women tell me how fondly they remember the experience, and how grateful they were to be able to attend. In case you missed the conference, or just want to relive those two special days, watch the conference recap below.
Like many organizations, Momentum made the pivot to virtual practically overnight. The whole team really rallied to implement the tools and processes we needed to continue to deliver classes and content that would do online what we normally do in person: educate, inspire, and strengthen support networks for women to advance in leadership. We are so grateful to all of our session speakers who volunteered their time to offer their content online during our Intentional Tuesday and Wellness Wednesday series. We hosted a total of 20 online events in Q2, with anywhere between 25 and 200 participants. We could have never accomplished the online programming, YouTube channel, online resources, COVID-19 service projects, and expand our mentor matching program without the addition of our Mentor Coordinator, Mindy Santo, and four fabulous interns: Audrey Smith and Loren Leach from Samford, and Allie Hayes and Nikita Udayakumar, from UAB.
In July we hosted a drive-by graduation for Class 17 so they could pick up their diplomas, enjoy a toast, and say good-bye (masks on!)
We were so happy to see the group together once more, and they were grateful for the experience.
In Board of Director news, we thanked Cheri Canon for her service as Board President, welcomed Nancy Kane as our new Board President, and announced Michele Elrod as our new President-Elect. Additionally, we welcomed four new talented board members: Natalia Calvo-Senovilla, Tiffany DeGruy, Tere’ Edwards, and Karla Wiles. We feel very fortunate to have such an engaged and supportive Board of Directors who give their time and talent to Momentum.
Q3 – Momentum Matters
Q3 was a testament to Momentum’s relevance in so many ways. Data was just starting to emerge on the number of women downsizing their careers or leaving the workforce all together due to COVID-19, as highlighted by McKenzie in their Women in the Workplace study. At Momentum, we decided to add another tool to our virtual programming toolbox: the Momentum Matters podcast! ‘
The podcast allows us to remove geographic barriers and reach listeners everywhere to inspire, educate, and raise awareness for the challenges working women face on their path to leadership. Getting set up for the podcasts, which we also video for our YouTube channel, was more complicated than we thought. After the first interview, we knew it was well worth it to be able to share the stories of the inspiring women leaders who are part of the Momentum network.
Q4 – Onward and Upward
We’ve had no shortage of amazing women leaders to interview for Momentum Matters! Our fall focused on race and equity, with intriguing conversations with Elizabeth Huntley, Bobbie Knight, and Myla Calhoun. January will highlight health, both physical and psychological.
In October we celebrated the graduation of our second Upward class with a drive-through graduation. This group of 60 dynamic emerging leaders did not miss a beat when their Momentum classes went virtual and have remained engaged by joining the Momentum Alumnae Program.
“Thank you for making the Upward program so valuable. I admit, I had my doubts as the pandemic raged and the class went virtual. Happily, I was proven wrong! The experience showed me that where I had seen fear, I can now see opportunity and excitement instead. I also realized that intrinsically, I am not missing anything. All of us experience self-doubt and have work to do.”
Chelsea Brewton, Upward Class of 2020
We have seen a steady stream of membership renewals and Honor Roll gifts since our November mailing went out. To those who have already taken this step, we truly appreciate your support. You keep Momentum going!
If you have not yet renewed your MAP membership or would consider a year-end gift, please take a moment do so. Memberships and Honor Roll gifts are an important part of Momentum’s ability to serve a growing number of women leaders statewide.
What we make of 2021 is up to us. As leaders, our community, our teams and our families look to us to be the example, charter the course, and set the pace. May we all reflect on the lessons learned in 2020 and lean hard into our resilience for a prosperous and meaningful 2021.