Like us, people throughout the country and the world are preparing to go back to the office after a year and a half of drastic global and personal change. This should be our “Great Return.” But many people, women in particular, are understandably anxious about returning to the office and its old ways.
Our own pre-pandemic lives included saying “yes” to far too many things. Can you be on the West Coast on Wednesday so we can discuss this in person? Yes. Can you take the red eye and be back in the office on Thursday morning for a meeting? Yes. Networking dinner Thursday night? Sure. But can you stop by this drinks meeting first? OK. Can you have dinner with a family member on Friday? Of course. This isn’t a complaint. It’s how we got everything done. We learned to operate in a constant state of hustle.
And then we were still.
theSkimm’s workforce is by and large driven by women - women who in the last 16 months have been forced to reschedule major life events, given birth, buried a loved one, and have gotten sick themselves. Women who have had to work while also managing their kids’ virtual learning. Women who are dealing with how to support their parents through this. And women who are trying to keep it together.
We are often asked to describe what the culture is like at theSkimm. We used to say, "That's easy. You feel it when you walk off the elevator. We ‘skimm together.’ It's how the brand comes to life.” As we have grown -- as a team, as leaders, and as individuals -- theSkimm's culture has come to mean something entirely different. It’s how we support each other through policies and daily life. Things like implementing a paid family leave policy, a flexible work schedule and a focus on mental health.
The unfortunate reality is that we are just one company and most women don’t get the flexibility and support they deserve. The pandemic has been so brutal to women that economists have dubbed its impact on women in the workforce the “she-cession.”
To get a sense of how difficult this period has been for women, we surveyed our primarily female millennial audience: 24% have started therapy since the pandemic, 17% have lost their jobs, 16% grew their families, 33% rescheduled a major life event, 70% thought about their mental health more frequently, and 45% reconsidered their career. There will be nothing great to return to for a generation of women who have pushed and pushed for what they have and now are struggling to hold it all together.
So how do we support women moving forward? How do we make the Great Return the Great Her-Turn?
There are calls for a Marshall Plan for Moms and a caregiving Czar. Yes and yes. We applaud all of these political efforts but companies also need to do their part. And that means completely rethinking the benefits package to include things like a flexible work schedule with remote work options, mental health resources, ample time off, fertility coverage, child tuition saving, retirement funds, support for dependents (including parents), health insurance, paid family leave and perks for moms.
In some cases, it also means rethinking the purpose of the office altogether. Do we really need to be in one place M-F, 9 to 5? Time in the office honestly doesn’t matter so much anymore. Yet, there’s also the reality that face time may end up counting for more. With all the demands that women have faced in the past year and a half, working remotely may seem like the better alternative. But how will that work out if men who haven’t taken on the same burdens go back in person at higher rates?
The Great Return can only be the Great Her-turn if we figure out how to give women the opportunity to return to the office on their own terms. That will mean different things to different people and theSkimm will continue exploring new ways to support its employees. We’ll also continue to stand behind policies and agendas that support women and do our part as business leaders to actually make it great for women everywhere.
What will going back to “normal” look like for us?
Saying yes to everything? Earning less than our male counterparts? Not prioritizing our mental health? Concealing the balls we all juggle in the air to keep our home lives running?
No, thank you.
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