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On March 18, 2021, the FiscalNote Executive Institute hosted, “Keep a Seat at the Table While WFH: Lessons in Resilience from Female Execs in Government Affairs and Corporate Counsel,” an interactive virtual discussion featuring Lucy Gettman, Executive Director of Women in Government; Brittany Masalosalo, Head of International Government Affairs at 3M; Olga Mack, CEO at Parley Pro; and Anne Benedict, Chief Legal Officer at Summit Materials. The closed-door event was moderated by Becca Bycott, Director of Thought Leadership and Engagement at FiscalNote.

Lucy Gettman

Brittany Masalosalo

Olga Mack

Anne Lee Benedict

The pandemic helped bring awareness to the work-life challenges women executives have always faced

Women executives have been dealing with the tug and pull of home and work life for years. However, as Masalosalo noted, the pandemic brought these challenges to light and helped “level the playing field” as both men and women are attempting to balance working from home and being present for their families. As a result, she feels companies have a newfound empathy that has been needed for years.

Benedict said that the pandemic also highlighted the disparity of resources among different groups as they tried to manage their work and home lives. In response, she said leaders should be dedicated to making systemic changes that consider the individual needs and challenges of employees.

Moving forward, Gettman said it will be critical for COVID-19 response committees and decision-makers to be representative of the full community and include members of all groups that have been affected by the pandemic. This will be the key to developing truly equitable standards.

Self-care and establishing boundaries are vital to resilience and professional growth

The efficiency and convenience digital technology has provided during the pandemic have made it difficult for women executives to set healthy boundaries within their work lives. Gettman said that engaging in self-care and creating margin are necessary strategies for coping with stress and bouncing back from difficult circumstances — including the pandemic.

Simple practices such as quick mid-day walks, taking a full lunch, or blocking out times for personal matters are important for maintaining mental health. Once women figure out what works for them, they need to stick with those practices so they can avoid burnout and persevere in times of high stress, Gettman said.

The best way women leaders can promote a healthy work-life balance is by setting an example

Women leaders can help change the narrative and culture within their organizations by setting the tone and modeling self-care practices. As an example, Mack said her team knows she is unavailable at 3:30 p.m. because her kids are arriving home from school. This type of modeling by C-suite executives helps normalize self-care behavior and can have a trickle-down effect.

As a leader, Mack said she has also been proactive about talking to her team about healthy ways to deal with anxiety and stress. She has even brought in a mental health professional to provide support, and has encouraged her team to get any help they need.

According to Masalosalo, leaders need to create safe spaces for employees to share their feelings and set boundaries without fear of negative perception or consequences. She said women executives can start the process by finding the courage to “speak their truth,” not just in shared company, but throughout their organizations.

Positive changes in diversity, equity, and inclusion will require action, good policies, and the support of allies

The discussion also delved into how diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are affected by the pandemic. Diversity should not only exist within organizations but also be celebrated and honored, Gettman noted. Developing this type of culture starts by making systemic changes, whether through bylaws, processes, codes of conduct, or other organizational policies, she said.

Mack added that although policies are important and can help scale change, transformation comes when people roll up their sleeves and take action. “The future belongs to the builders and doers and shakers,” she said. This goes back to modeling new behaviors that “start the snowball” of positive change.

Masalosalo and Benedict also stressed the importance of having allies among majority groups to champion women and other underrepresented groups. According to Benedict, there needs to be a collective effort of those who are cognizant of the issues to extend a hand and use their voices to provide support.