A COVID life – Female leaders at the crossroads!?

A COVID life - Female leaders at the crossroads!?

We asked female leaders, who will be speaking at our summit in 2021, to share their personal thoughts on the challenges, opportunities and new perspectives they have personally encountered as they navigate through the still ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This special series should inspire and encourage you to continue to manage the crisis in the best possible way. This is where Deborah Lorenzen, who has a very unusual career path, has her say.

Deb has been Chief Operating Officer of various portfolios for industry leaders State Street and BNY Mellon. She is currently Head of Enterprise Data Governance at State Street, the leading provider of asset intelligence to the owners and managers of the world’s capital. Prior to this role she led the Strategy & Data Governance team at State Street Global Advisors, the investment management arm of State Street, as well as leading a number of infrastructure development programs.

She has a proven track record for driving internal and external change programs including client, technology and human capital impacts, through periods of growth as well as consolidation. An acknowledged culture carrier and integrator, Deb is deeply experienced in complex cross-border negotiations.

We are the lucky ones. My close family, my circle of friends, many of the people I know by first name. We live in single family homes with broadband and can have our groceries delivered. As long as we can keep our jobs, no troubles here. As long as.

The Coronavirus pandemic has been a tale of opposite outcomes when it comes to women at work.

Deborah Lorenzen , Head of Data Governance, State Street Global Advisors, USA

On the one hand, Covid has put vastly more women out of work – one study in America shows the ratio at 4 women out of work for every 1 man – yet on the flip side Covid has also seen the promotion of more women to the CEO ranks in the Fortune 500 than at any time before. And female heads of state have been some of the most successful when it comes to fighting this pandemic.

Pathways of women in leadership positions during and after the pandemic

How do we step up into the next promotion in this environment? Or failing that, how do we keep our jobs?

One of the huge benefits of representing a historically disadvantaged group – female executives, for example – is that you don’t get ‘moved along’ in your career the same way your privileged colleagues do. That has tons of downsides, and at least one upside that is paying dividends in 2020. When the promotions don’t come easy you find yourself taking bigger risks to move forward. You take lateral moves. You put your hand up for the thing that no one in their right mind would do because it is so likely to fail. Try leading the effort to move jobs to a ‘low-cost location’. Sign up to manage the regulatory initiative that costs money and distraction but brings no revenue. Take over an operation targeted for shutdown so you will intentionally work yourself (and many others) out of a job.

After a career of this I’ve been told my CV was “non-standard”, and asked to explain (not describe) my career journey as it is filled with these high-risk zigs and zags. But here comes the upside: under Covid, we suddenly need leaders who have tackled all kinds of crazy. My CV, and lots of women like me, finally pays off.

This, I think, is where we get the newly minted CEO’s and the ‘battlefield promotions’ of women taking on change, or leading firms which are completely caught up in change. Retail firms embroiled in an imploding Covid market, drugstore chains tackling substantial Covid related challenges, for example.

So that is the upside it seems. Female executives who have worked hard across multiple disciplines and proved they could beat the odds are stepping into another challenging situation where they will need to beat the odds.

We will have to watch this space to see if they keep their roles post-crisis or if they end up getting pushed the way of Rosie the Riveter who found herself back in the kitchen when the war was over.

Deborah Lorenzen , Head of Data Governance, State Street Global Advisors, USA

So what about the downside? Four out of five people stepping into the unemployment line are women?

For the past 17+ years, since my first child was born, I have been the one going to work every morning at the crack of dawn and coming home at supper time. Most nights I would walk in the door, drop my bags and sit down at the table where my husband, who is retired, would put a hot, freshly made supper down and we would eat as a family. Despite the fact that he pulled that off every day for years, I have slowly but surely pulled that responsibility back to myself through the pandemic. Despite over 17 years of experience with him pulling this feat off in a tasty and well balanced way, I’m apparently still not sure he is doing it right. So now that I’m in my home office, I step in. I start making food before he realizes it is close to dinner time. I’ve taken over without ever intending to do so.

He also did almost all the grocery shopping pre-pandemic. I’ve effectively put an end to that, first because we couldn’t get groceries delivered early in the pandemic, and then because, in my mind, it was easier for me to shop to make sure we got the right things. Months later it is again easy to get grocery delivery and he has asked if we should do that again, but I persist in going to the grocery store. So all this work coming back to me is largely my own doing.

Female employees and managers must be brought back into the companies

This, I think, is one of the keys to the mismatch in the unemployment line. It is tough to bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, troubleshoot the zoom class for your 11 year old and still get to bed at a decent hour. The problem is, I love getting to make sandwiches for the kids in the morning, a privilege I never had before. So the decision to step out of the workplace during this pandemic is understandable. What we have to figure out, in the second half of the new year, is how to bring these talented members of the workforce back.

Our collective challenge, one we have to explicitly integrate into our 2021 Q3 and Q4 planning, is how to re-integrate the millions of women who have been pushed or intentionally pulled out of the workforce once schools and childcare and all the support structures return to normal. Whether women stepped out to take on traditional roles of cooking and cleaning and supporting their school-aged children, or because the company gave them no option, we have to find ways to get this talented half of the workforce back in play.

Bottom line, it has been depressing to watch the broad impact of the pandemic on women’s careers. On the flip side it has been exhilarating to watch the success of some of the world’s leading women, Prime Ministers and CEO’s and how well they have guided their teams and countries through this pandemic. It is gratifying to see the advancement of some while deeply worrying to watch the decimation of the pipeline.

We, most of you reading this article now, are the lucky ones. In 2021 we need to do everything we can to make that true again for those this pandemic has left behind.

Review 2019: Collaborating to Build a Better World

Once again, remarkable women and influential leaders from all over the world convened under one roof to share their expertise, perspective and acumen on how the world we live in is developing and what everyone can contribute to make a positive impact. Learn more and download the offical review 2019!

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