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Julia Taxin, ’12, appeared to have her life completely together this past Wednesday as she spoke during a webinar about the pandemic’s impact on women in the workplace.

Taxin’s home office looked impeccable, her face looked rested, and her house seemed quiet. And then she admitted it was all a facade.

Taxin, a partner at venture capital firm Grotech Ventures, was speaking from her closet, she was using a virtual background, and she had given birth to her fourth child two months before the pandemic reared its ugly face.

“From a work perspective, work and home are very much blurred right now,” said Taxin, who said she remains grateful to have continued working throughout the pandemic, unlike millions of other working mothers.

She’s a shining example of the effect that the COVID-19 crisis has had on women. At the senior level, 47 percent of women have felt the need to be “always on,” and 54 percent say they have felt consistently exhausted since March 2020, according to a 2020 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org. As a result, 17 percent of mothers surveyed said they were considering reducing their work hours; 16 percent thought about switching to a less demanding job; and 15 percent contemplated taking a leave of absence.

Taxin—along with other leading women in business—gathered on Zoom to discuss how women can combat gender inequality, which has taken a bigger hit than ever in the past year. The event was part of the Booth Women Connect series, which brings together a powerful, collaborative community of women to network and foster meaningful discourse. Watch the full video below or scroll to read highlights.

Steering through a Crisis

After detailing the study’s alarming findings about COVID-19’s economic effects on women, Kweilin Ellingrud, the senior partner leading much of McKinsey’s globally-focused gender equality research and the moderator of the event, asked how women can recover from the past year.

Until companies offer more flexible schedules that can accommodate women, we’ll continue down this path of inequality, Taxin said.

Panelist Jennifer Scanlon, ’92, the president and CEO of Northbrook, Illinois-based safety certification company UL, spoke about facing a global challenge.

Scanlon was six months into her job as CEO of the global company with 15,000 employees around the world when the crisis struck. An essential business, UL continued to operate, with Scanlon focused on ensuring the health and safety of employees and customers. 

UL created a best-practice resource for its employees combining the company’s collective expertise with guidance from leading health organizations. And in response to the social unrest and the pain employees were feeling, she focused on psychological safety, scheduling “courageous conversations” with employee groups around the world, and rapidly accelerating the company’s D&I goals, continuing to build a diverse leadership team, she said.

Scanlon also made the decision to continue work previously started to overhaul UL’s corporate strategy. Now, a year later, the move has proved prescient as UL is building on its science-based core expertise in testing, inspection, and certification to grow the company by following its customers into adjacency businesses. 

Yes, there was stress for her and her team, she shared, but UL has come out of the crisis stronger.

“2020 was a unique year to lean into your voice, Don’t underestimate the need for your voice at your company.”

— Alaina Anderson, ’06

Don’t Be Afraid to Step into Discomfort

The panelists also discussed how women can speak up to get the help they need. Alaina Anderson, ’06, partner and portfolio manager at William Blair & Company, said she was initially embarrassed to tell her mother she needed to hire a cleaning service for extra help at home—but she realized her concerns around admitting she needed help were unnecessary.

“Invest in the resources you need to be successful,” Anderson said. “Advocate for yourself.”

Anderson said she’s been advocating for herself since the start of her career. Often, she’s been the only woman or the only woman of color in the room—so in order to make herself and others more comfortable with her presence, she focused on being poised, prepared, and likable.

She changed the tone and texture of her voice, she altered her hair, and she felt herself shrinking. And then, Anderson said, she realized that she doesn’t need to change herself in order to be accepted as a woman or a person of color.

“I’m glad to be done with that phase,” Anderson said. “Stepping into discomfort is where a lot of growth has come.”

Over the past year, Anderson has faced even more discomfort. As the mother of two elementary-aged children who are e-learning, along with being a Black woman during a time of widespread conversations about racial justice, Anderson said she’s leaning into the discomfort.

“2020 was a unique year to lean into your voice,” Anderson said. “Don’t underestimate the need for your voice at your company.”

Keep Building Relationships

Responding to an audience question asking for advice for those starting their careers, Scanlon responded: “I have a senior in college, and I’ve been giving her and her friends this advice: Amp up your networking.” She also noted that help is available. “I’ve had two dozen of those calls in the last four months. We get it. We are all ready and willing to help.”

Taxin concurred: “Take every introduction. You never know who is going to connect you to the person who ends up hiring you.”

Maintaining strong bonds with friends is just as important, the panelists noted. “I made two very good friends who were also working mothers when my oldest daughter was in preschool,” Scanlon said.  “We’re still friends today. We had coffee every Saturday while our girls were in dance class for over a decade.  You need a few people who will be honest and direct and warm and a shoulder to cry on when you need it.”

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