International Women’s Day 2021 was one of the last times I commuted to Avanade’s Chicago office. I had heard about the coronavirus for weeks – most notably as my colleagues in Asia had to work remote – but I was just starting to feel nervous about it in a real way.
But on that day, I had other things on my mind. To commemorate International Women’s Day, our office arranged for four women executives at Avanade to sit on a panel and share their experiences as the rest of us enjoyed a breakfast together and asked questions. The theme was #PressForProgress, and I have to admit, I didn’t feel in the mood to press for progress. Elizabeth Warren had just dropped out of the U.S. Democratic primary, and it became a certainty that we would once again miss out on the chance of a woman president. I also had a 2-year-old and 6-month-old at home. I was exhausted, emotional, and frustrated.
At some point during the Q&A, against my better judgment, I raised my hand. “For those of you have children, how did you reconcile with the fact that when they were young, you couldn’t ‘press for progress’ the way you once had? If you are professionally ambitious, how do you balance that with the reality that as a new mom, you just can’t work the hours or even commit the mental bandwidth you once did?”
My throat was burning in the way it does when I am fighting very hard not to cry. It was a vulnerable moment. All four women leaders looked at me sympathetically. “I think a few of us might have just had PTSD flashbacks,” one answered kindly. “You have to understand that this is a phase. It is a hard phase, but it will pass. You can ease your foot off the gas, give your family what it needs, and you will be able to floor it later, I promise.”
There was relief in someone with more perspective offering me that insight. The hard truth was that I had no idea what was coming. We were mere days away from the declaration of a global pandemic, one that would close my children’s day care, rip millions of women out of the workforce, and potentially set women’s progress back years. If I was exhausted then, I would have crumbled to see the challenges that awaited me.
But this is where I must admit that I have had it very good. I was able to work remotely, keeping myself and my family safe and healthy, from the beginning of the pandemic. When I looked to Avanade leadership, both globally and more immediately within my team, I was supported and told I had no reason to fear for my job. Women of color have borne the brunt of this crisis, facing disproportionate wealth and job loss, and it is important to acknowledge my privilege as a white woman.
I have held the advice from last International Women’s Day in my head throughout this year like a mantra: “It will pass.” Though last year called us to “Press for Progress,” we lost decades of it in 2021. When I think of this year’s theme – #ChooseToChallenge – there is so much I want to challenge, racism and unconscious bias being chief among them. But I also want to challenge myself to have a little more patience and grace in my own life and career. My professional life does not look like it did at 24. I often have to reschedule meetings or tell my boss that I have my kids for a certain window. Sometimes they join me on a call. But Avanade, and this year, has shown me that this is OK. I am still making progress.