Such counsel is particularly relevant today, as COVID-19 overturns the best laid life and career plans.
Amanda applies her experience running a virtual office – and her past studies in modern history – to the challenge of working from home, leading teams and keeping everyone motivated. “When you look at major crises, including 9/11, the Global Financial Crisis or now, our initial reaction is to cancel everything and hunker down,” observes Amanda.
“Actually, in these times, what we need as humans is to connect and build community, so we must be adaptable, whether it’s learning to manage remotely or embrace video calls for networking. In a crisis, you need to focus on what you can do – not on what you can’t – so instead of cancelling things, we need to re-imagine those things.”
That’s exactly what she challenged her dispersed 100 Women in Finance staff and volunteers to do as they find ways to curate online educational, peer networking and community engagement activities, despite the constraints of social distancing. “We’re asking our women to make the most of this moment in time and learn new ways to connect virtually. It’s not perfect, but our members really appreciate that there are regular events to look forward to and the sense of continuity they create.”
Although this process of reimaging things isn’t easy, Amanda points out that there could be a silver lining to the COVID-19 chaos: “There are interesting opportunities for women in this period of time. For instance, if the old boys’ network created barriers to women building relationships, suddenly those old boys’ activities, like golf and drinks after work, can’t be done.”
Instead, women can adapt and find ways to become visible during this new era: “In traditional in-person meetings, the loudest person got the most attention and extroverts would dominate. Video calls are a less flexible and informal channel, so it’s easier for quieter people to get their moment to speak, particularly when leaders learn to direct the discussion and include everyone in the conversation.”
Amanda also points out how the new way of working means that it’s more acceptable to reveal your vulnerability: “Suddenly, we’re all seeing into each other’s home lives and we can’t hide that we have children or whatever. All of us – women and men – are dealing with the same situations and women can start to be their real selves rather than trying to look like Superwoman.”
She adds that, “This is actually an opportunity for women since we have a knack for building relationships that are more vulnerable. For example, colleagues in the business development field say it’s easier to reach investors now, since everyone’s at home. And you can have conversations that are more personal, since everybody is in the same boat.”
Genuine conversations are also important to help women face one downside of COVID-19-induced isolation, namely the increased demands on women as caregivers. “It’s not easy to figure out the caregiver piece, but it starts with a conversation with your significant other about balancing those duties,” suggests Amanda. “I believe that men can help move the needle for women’s advancement if we include men in the conversation and say ‘Look, we both have work calls, how are we going to split up our responsibilities?’”
As I wrapped up my own conversation with Amanda, I felt freshly inspired that, even in the face of a new hurdle, women can continue their climb. Seeking peers and taking new risks to stand out remain important. And the COVID-19 situation forces us to apply our strengths and find new ways to beat the challenge. As Amanda concludes: “The elephant in the room is now staring us in the face, so let’s have a conversation and get through this in a creative way.”
For more inspiring stories from women leaders in financial services visit home.kpmg/mindthegap.