Some of my earliest childhood memories were formed from the backseat of my mother’s car as we drove around town posting real estate signs on lawns, attending open houses, or sitting on the floor of a conference room with crayons and coloring books while adults signed the stacks of settlement paperwork that would finalize the real estate transaction.
My mother had never worked outside the home before getting married and starting a family. But my dad, a successful Realtor® and real estate instructor, had made a passing comment, “Jean, you should take my class, because if anything should ever happen to me, real estate is a good field to get into.”
And that’s exactly what she did when my dad tragically passed away at age 40 making Mom the primary breadwinner for her four young daughters ages 3 (me) to 17. Within weeks she embarked on what would become a 30+ year successful career in real estate.
My mother’s business was an all-in family effort, which I took personally. I’d recruit my best friend and Mom would pay us $5 each to distribute a giant stack of flyers from one end of town to the other. A win for her was a win for our family, and a loss, like a client letting their listing expire, would hit me hard.
Throughout my formative years and into college, everything I knew about business was what I’d observed in my Mom: work hard, don’t quit, provide for the family. She was the ultimate hustler and managed to pay the bills, the tuition and the mortgage while also managing to run us to our doctor’s appointments, school activities and the like. I didn’t fully appreciate all she had taught me through example until years later when I had my own family and my own business and felt the pressures of keeping both afloat.
“A National Emergency”
By now we’ve all heard the alarming statistics: nearly 3 million American women have disappeared from the workforce in the last year as a result of Covid-19. According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, “Working mothers are either willingly leaving jobs, or are being forced out in extraordinary numbers. Mothers’ V-shaped employment patterns are becoming prolonged and more severe in this global crisis.” “It is a national emergency,” stated President Biden, “It genuinely is a national emergency.”
Layoffs and furloughs have pushed some women out, while others have been forced to step away from paid work to cover childcare gaps left by shuttered schools and daycare centers. Again, according to the Census Bureau, “Mothers carry a heavier burden, on average, of unpaid domestic household chores and child care, which, during a pandemic that draws everyone into the home, disrupts parents’ ability to actively work for pay.” Add to this that even in pre-Covid times, women know all too well the weight of carrying the “mental load” of household responsibilities, and some 52% of women surveyed said they were burnt out by it.
Though we’re slowly emerging from the grip of this pandemic, most agree that we’ll never fully return to an exact replica of “the way things were” pre-Covid. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s an opportunity to consciously address inequities in pay and valuable work, and outdated notions of childcare and household responsibilities.
These days, I spend a lot of time contemplating how women can support each other, particularly as it relates to growth and development in the workforce. Why are women still making less money on the dollar? Why are boardrooms still dominated by one gender?
I enjoy a good “girl power” meme as much as the next person, but I’m also acutely aware it will take more than Instagram posts to move the needle towards a more equitable and inclusive environment for women in the workforce.
I believe a good place to start is by building our networks while continually asking the questions what do I need and how can I help? Let me explain.
One of our superpowers as women is our ability to connect. You just had a baby? I’ll be on your doorstep with a casserole in a heartbeat. Yes, we’re experts at relationships, but often to the detriment of building our professional networks and networking skills.
I notice time and again in meetings with female colleagues that we’ll discuss any number of topics that connect us, like children, school, or current events, but just a sliver of time speaking professionally.
I think that script should be flipped.
What do you need right now? A referral? Mentoring? Advice? You can probably answer that question without hesitation, yet asking for what we need is still a stumbling block for so many of us, even seasoned professionals.
Networking and asking for what you or your business needs is like “working out.” The more you “work out”, the more muscle memory you’ll develop. Over time, it becomes easier and more natural.
How can I help is on the other side of the equation. Perhaps the person sitting in front of you needs an IT referral, a human resource specialist for small to midsize businesses, or advice on getting an internship program off the ground. Who do you know in your network who might help them? How can you make a connection from your network and align it with theirs to serve a need?
Take action, get local
I’ve had an idea brewing for some time about forming a women’s networking group to serve my locale of South Jersey. With the pandemic having displaced so many women from the workforce, now is the time to focus on solutions for bringing them back, stronger than ever.
I envision an in-person event in the fall, perhaps raising money for local women-focused charities. I can picture programs to help women re-enter the workforce by connecting them with professionals who can offer employment coaching, interview preparation, or resume writing.
Of course, I don’t have every detail worked out just yet, but at this point, I know I don’t have to. I know that when women start collaborating, when I connect my network to yours, and together we connect to 10 or 20 or even 100 others, wheels start turning and things start happening.
As a child, I watched my mom “make it happen” in her real estate career by creating networks and personal connections within those networks. Her career was more than business, it was personal, which is the best way to do business, I think.
Does the idea of women helping women resonate with you? Raise your hand if you’re in the South Jersey area and interested in creating or participating in a women’s networking group. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s see where we can go.