Editor's note: In the hours following the panel, Tina Tchen announced her resignation as president and CEO of Time's Up.
During theSkimm’s Back to “Normal” Power Panel, our co-founders and co-CEOs Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg talked about what a return to “normal” in the workplace looks like amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We were joined by…
Tina Tchen, then-president and CEO of Time’s Up
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center
Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance
And, Tami Forman, CEO of Path Forward
It’s no secret that women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic: One in 10 moms with young kids quit their job — with half of them saying it was because of school or daycare closures. Gender equality in the workplace was set back more than a decade. And women were feeling burned out at faster rates. Now, as women head back into the workforce and office, it’s important to make sure they’re equipped with the information and tools they need to make their work-life balance real. Hit the play button above to hear from the experts.
The Big Takeaways
Tina Tchen Talks TIME’S UP
First up, we talked to Tchen about the backlash Time's Up has faced in recent weeks. Here’s what you need to know: Time’s Up was founded in January 2018 amid the #MeToo era in an effort to prevent sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and to support survivors. Earlier this month, the chairwoman of the org’s board resigned after it came out that she advised former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) administration over sexual harassment allegations against him. That led to widespread criticism about Time’s Up leadership and their connections to those in power, as well as the org’s priorities. Many survivors and internal employees admit they felt let down.
Tchen said the org has tried to do two things: One, “hold powerful people accountable” and two, “work with them to make things better” because they can help create meaningful change (think: by passing legislation or implementing company policies).
She acknowledged that the company needs to do the latter in a “responsible way that does not lead survivors to question us or feel as though we have betrayed them,” and said that “the idea that my actions have caused pain to women is deeply, deeply and profoundly regretful to me.”
“I am somebody who has worked with powerful people for a long time. I’ve obviously worked in the White House, I’ve worked for large institutions...But I’m learning how when you do that work, there are guardrails you’re gonna need to put up, and probably more guardrails than I fully understood or anticipated,” Tchen said when asked about what mistakes Time’s Up has made. “We clearly see how we can be used as cover. And let’s be clear – what I believe happened with the Cuomo administration was we were used as cover in ways I had no understanding of until the AG’s report. That’s a problem, and we can’t let that happen. Our movement cannot be used as cover for folks who are trying to actually go at survivors or others.”
Note: On Thursday, Tchen stepped down from her role as president and CEO of Time’s Up. Here’s the latest on her departure.
Problems and Solutions for Women Workers
Moving onto how the pandemic has impacted women in the workplace, we talked about how women’s progress was set back so quickly. Forman says that the problems women in the workforce have faced over the past 1.5 years aren’t new – “they are cranked up to 11.”
“My hopeful moments are the ones where I realize [the pandemic] has blown the cover off,” Forman said. “Like this is finally exposed...that the system wasn’t working.”
Forman’s not the only one feeling a bit hopeful about change. Poo called this time “the most hopeful moment for women.” She explained that before COVID-19, many women privately struggled with the stress of affording childcare or taking care of an elderly relative – and that they blamed themselves. “It was all kind of this private simmering crisis, and we thought that if we couldn’t figure it out or we couldn’t afford it, it was a personal failure.”
But “what COVID did was blow all of our minds. Because we [thought] we’re doing everything we can, and it’s not enough. Because there’s nothing in place to support us,” Poo said.
Poo also elaborated on the fact that women of color take on more care responsibilities than any other group – and the fact that care workers are largely women of color. “Some of our first domestic workers and homecare workers were actually enslaved African women, and that association throughout time has allowed for an exclusion to be embedded in our laws,” she said. “When our labor laws were put into place, it explicitly excluded domestic workers from equal rights and protections.”
She added: “Now...it’s a great leap into the future where we’re actually trying to say these jobs should be good jobs for the 21st century that you can support your family on and sustain in...and all of the families and the entire economy, which relies on the work of this workforce, will actually be strengthened by that in that process.” She called it “a ripple-up effect when you invest in care workers who are mostly women of color.”
The panelists were optimistic about the fact that Congress just passed the $3.5 trillion budget plan, which paves the way for universal pre-K and paid family leave. Goss Graves called paid leave “a critical part of the care infrastructure that we need.” And that “it’s a standard that will ensure we are healthier, that our families are more intact, and that our workplaces actually have the ability to be secure and to plan for the future.”
“I don’t know that I would have believed two years ago...that Congress would be taking this really bold step [of getting closer to passing paid leave legislation], and all of us should be focusing on making sure they get it over the finish line,” Goss Graves said. She encouraged Skimm’rs to call their elected officials and push them to enact policies that will support them and their families. “It doesn’t matter what party you’re in,” she said. “Make the call.”
Goss Graves even gave Skimm’rs a verbal prompt: ‘Hi, my name is _______. I live in your district, and what I want you to focus on and the vote I need you to take is in support of child care and paid leave and homecare services. I need you to make that investment. You cannot give up. It matters to me.’ Simple, right?
Psst...You can find your elected officials’ contact info here.
Tchen also gave our audience some ideas on how companies can ease care burdens for working women. Two ideas she mentioned:
Implementing a comprehensive paid leave policy. Not just for childcare, but for self-care, elderly care, taking care of a disabled relative, bereavement leave, and safe days for domestic violence survivors in case they need a day off to go to court.
Helping employees with caregiving. She said that companies can offer a childcare or caregiving benefit or provide on-site caregiving places for their workforce. Tchen pointed out that “the difficulty in finding childcare...isn’t just a difficulty for low-wage workers. Everyone up and down the wage scale has trouble finding the caregiving that they need because we haven’t invested in this industry ever as a country.”
Re-Entering the Workforce
Many women were forced to leave their jobs because of a lack of childcare. If you did too and are looking to get back into the workplace, Forman offered up some advice: Give yourself permission to prioritize yourself and your job search.
“You have been out of the workforce. You can come first now, and you can take the time that you need to [get back in] and make that space,” she said. She also explained that there’s no time like the present to network. Yes, even in the time of Zoom. She told us, “I’ve met with people I never would have gotten to meet with in the old world...because the idea of doing a Zoom call now is so much more accessible than it was before.”
For many women, it’s been over a year since they were last in their offices. And as companies transition back to IRL workspaces again, it’s time for women workers to feel that their workplace is a safe space that also gives them the flexibility they need – and that the federal government is doing all they can to help them succeed.
PS: We’ve got tips and resources to help make the transition to “normal” in the workplace a little smoother. And subscribe to our podcast "9 to 5ish with theSkimm" for more tips to navigate your career.
PPS: This is just the recap, if you want the full rundown, be sure to hit play on the video above.
Updated on Aug 26 – Updated to include Tina Tchen's resignation as president and CEO of Time's Up.
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