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4 Reasons Coronavirus Will Be Lifechanging for Women in Tech: Part 1

Women are leading us through this pandemic, but are suffering the brunt of the economic fallout of COVID-19. Women are also paid less than men, despite being at increased risk as we make up 75% of healthcare practitioners according to the World Health Organization.

At the same time, there has never been a more historic event in our lifetime that provides such a massive opportunity to level the playing field for women in technology. Within just a short few months, the world has radically shifted and is now conducive to the workplace environment we’ve been advocating for our whole lives.

It’s our turn to decide what happens next.

Here are 4 ways a Post-Coronavirus world will be the opportunity of a lifetime for women in tech:

  1. Remote work will be the new norm
  2. Women led industries are being forced to rapidly innovate the most:
    Healthcare, Education, Mental Health
  3. Men have been forced to share the load of parenting
  4. Tech companies are now reliant on executives that lead with empathy, vulnerability and flexibility

Reason 1: Remote Work is the New Norm

VMware, the company I love working for, is leading the discussion in the industry right now on enabling remote work in light of current events. I fundamentally believe (and the industry agrees) that this is not a temporary change. We will never go back to the world as we knew it and moms everywhere are rejoicing in that fact.

Why Is this Important to Women?

Moms Need Remote and Flexible Work Environments to Stay in the Workforce

In 2014 as a Product Manager at a Fortune 50 tech company, I had a 40 minute commute into the office each way. Our department had an office culture that frowned upon working remotely. Pre-mom Chas had no problem with that. In fact, I knew I would eventually become a mom, so I chose that company because it was on the 2014 Working Mother 100 Best Companies. It was truly one of the best options out there (and still is!).

Enter 2015 and the birth of my first child. I struggled throughout my pregnancy to come into the office every day because I had awful morning sickness, then sciatica. I can’t tell you how embarrassing it was for me to know my coworkers saw me vomiting in our 5-stall public bathroom right before our meeting. After a 12-week maternity leave, I was lucky enough to leave my son with my sister in law while I went into the office. After 2 weeks, my son started refusing all bottles. We tried everything: lactation consultants, hundreds wasted on new bottles, spoonfeeding, pediatricians, but he refused anything other than breastmilk straight from the source.

43% of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers or off-ramping for a period of time.

HBR

I was faced with a dilemma: quit my job or move to a full-time remote role. Luckily, my awesome (male) boss at the time supported my move to remote status. I was one of few new moms in the tech industry who got the chance. From then on out, I carefully chose each boss I would work for knowing my worklife flexibility was in their hands. 17 months later, I gave birth to my daughter who also refused bottles. Once again, going into the office was not an option.

Even for moms whose babies take bottles, it’s grueling to have a commute requiring you to leave your child in daycare for 10-12 hours a day. Working remotely, I get to spend so much more time with my family. For the last 5 years, the only way I’ve been able to stay in the workforce is by being able to have the flexibility to work from home.

Business Travel is Difficult for Moms, Which Used to Be Required to Climb the Ladder

In the current pandemic, no one is traveling for business. It has forced us to find creative and more cost-effective ways to connect and do business virtually because we can no longer depend on face to face events and meetings. As a result, business travel will also be drastically reduced even after we find a vaccine for coronavirus. This is amazing for women because it is difficult for moms of young kids to travel. And let’s be honest, those employees who were unwilling to travel weren’t the ones that were getting promoted and recognized within their tech companies.

It’s also amazing because it means working dads will be traveling a lot less and be home more often to even the load of raising kids. How many moms do you know in two income families whose career took a backseat to their husband’s travel schedule?

Back to my personal story, you’d think business trips were also not an option during the first year of my kids’ lives since they were tethered to me, but I took many because I was ambitious and wanted to climb the ladder. Here’s how that went down. I white knuckled my way through it, causing major burnout where I almost left the workforce. I lost a piece of myself during that time and my family and friends didn’t recognize me.

I’ve traveled with my husband, family members and nannies (all caregiver travel costs that were not reimbursable) to many conferences, speaking engagements and strategy meetings. In 2017, I brought my sister with me to San Francisco for RSA Conference to care for my then infant daughter. We couldn’t get a hotel close to the Moscone Center, so I paid $100 to a pedicab driver to be at my beckon call every 4 hours to drive me halfway to meet my sister. There, I would breastfeed my baby on a park bench and hope that I hadn’t leaked breastmilk through my shirt so I could get back to work. I look back on those years as a blur of overwhelm.

Motherhood is Now More Acceptable in the Workplace

In a pre-covid world, we had a distinct line between business and our personal lives. My kids interrupting my Zoom meetings was unacceptable. No one knew, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve breastfed on a conference call hoping my baby didn’t make a peep. In one epic story, I secretly wore my sick, sleeping baby while swaying, screensharing and training hundreds on a new product launch.

While I felt like a real life super hero, the stress of keeping it a secret and maintaining my “business as usual” appearance took a real toll on my mental health. I’m not the only one. Mamas in tech around the world have all had to do this on the regular.

Now that everyone is forced to work remotely with kids out of school, motherhood is being normalized in the workforce. We’re all BBC dad and that is great news for all working parents, but especially mamas in tech.

A Talent Boomerang Has Tech Companies Looking Outside of Silicon Valley

With remote work now the new norm, no need to hire locally so that employees can come into the office. Many moms my age started in Silicon Valley, but moved after starting a family due to the lack of affordable real estate and the desire to be close to family while raising kids. Even in Austin, after I started working remotely we moved 7 miles outside of the city to have more space for the kids to run, which would have been an impossible commute if I were forced to go into the office.

Remote Mamas in Tech Will Have a Much Better Shot at Being Promoted

Let’s face it. Up until now, there has been a stigma about remote workers, which made it highly unlikely that they would get promoted as easily as those that were in the office. So many mamas I know have said, “I’d rather forgo climbing the ladder right now in exchange for a flexible work environment and more time with my kids.”

That mentality will forever change as remote work becomes more acceptable, making it possible for mamas working remotely to get promoted more often. More women in leadership roles equals more representation of women in tech.

More to Come in Part 2

For Part 1 of this series, I covered Remote Work because let’s be real, I have a full time job and 2 kids under 5, so I don’t have the time to crank this out all at once. Baby steps. More to come on reasons 2-4 of “Why Coronavirus Will Be Lifechanging for Mamas in Tech.”

We provide you with resources to help navigate motherhood and a career in tech.