As COVID-19 forces changes to the economy and American lifestyles, businesses that hope to survive and thrive will need creative ways to deal with these new challenges.
And that could mean path-breaking opportunities for women, who often bring a different approach to business leadership than their male counterparts, says Andi Simon (www.andisimon.com), a corporate anthropologist, founder of Simon Associates Management Consultants, and author of the upcoming book Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business.
Before the pandemic and economic downturn, over 50% of the U.S. workforce was women and women-owned 40% of the businesses.
But as the pandemic disrupted the economy, eliminated jobs, and forced social isolation and remote work, women found themselves scrambling to sustain their jobs, their livelihoods, and their business operations.
As a result, women in business and business owners were pivoting, Simon says.
“The post-pandemic recovery is going to require clever, opportunistic innovations,” she says. “We will see a great deal of rethinking going on about who is caring for children, how to balance the work/life load, and what work is going to be like in the future.”
Add to this the mental health impact of the social disruptions taking place, and “we can only imagine the pressures facing women, and men, as they rebuild lifestyles and restore economic vitality and growth,” Simon says.
She says she is seeing women “rising to the challenge, quickly developing new ways to help each other stabilize and regenerate their businesses and their families.”
Simon says some of the resilience comes through:
- Networking. Both men and women use networking to make business connections but building a network may be even more important for women as they come out of isolation and the recession. Women are making connections with other women who can be supportive of their challenges, who can mentor them, and help them restore their livelihoods and their personal lives. “Women are often criticized for not being decisive or controlling,” Simon says. “Instead, they lead through their ability to build consensus, manage their network, and engage with others.”
- Collaboration. There are many types of leaders and their styles shift to be situationally adaptive. “For the post-pandemic period, we expect to watch a lot of collaboration as people try to figure out how to restore their ‘new normal,’ ” Simon says. “It is more difficult for a command and control style of leadership to build trust when there is limited certainty about the right thing to do.” She says the research is compelling that women lead better than men. “Indeed, women are said to have far better social skills building teams than men,” she says, “but when they use those skills, they don’t always achieve the respect of men.” That is why in this emerging vacuum, women are rising to the occasion and leading others into creating the new realities.
- Changing how people think. Culture becomes a definer of what we value, believe, and do, Simon says. “There is a cultural movement underway that might be hidden from view unless the media begins to build the new story for how women can create better organizations and businesses in the post-pandemic economy,” she says. “How can we refocus our society to see that what women do is as good as, if not better than what men accomplish? There is momentum, but it is hard to sustain without strong role models, communities of women, and a media that articulates and embraces a new narrative.”
“We are watching women smash the myths that have kept them from achieving the leadership needed in our society today and into the future,” Simon says. “It is time to ‘rethink’ what women can do and how we should enable them to do it. Our society needs it more than ever as we recover from this pandemic and restore the vitality of our economy and our cultures.”