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The power of women, the dichotomy of 2021
The power of women, the dichotomy of 2021

2021 is quite the dichotomous year for women. We have already seen the highest highs, and sadly, many are experiencing the lowest lows.

Let’s be optimistic and start with the highs. On Super Bowl Sunday, we cheered Sarah Thomas as the first woman to officiate the NFL’s biggest game. In late January, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce selected Suzanne Clark to lead as president and CEO of the world’s largest business organization. Soon, Capt. Dianna Wolfson will assume command of Norfolk Naval Shipyard. She joins Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls, and a host of women leading government-contracting firms in Northern Virginia.

Locally we have three female university presidents: Dr. Katherine Rowe, president of William & Mary; Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, president of Norfolk State University; and Dr. Marcia Conston, president of Tidewater Community College. We believe these female presidents will teach future leaders the sky is the limit, and there are no boundaries based on gender. Yes, these are the moments to celebrate.

While we’ve heard that fictitious glass ceiling breaking this year as women reach the top, we are also hearing dreams shatter for the many working mothers forced to make work-life balance decisions on an incomprehensible level. Children are home attending virtual classes while working mothers are trying to attend to their work-from-home job. To survive, we have had to become master schedulers, expert space renovators, and IT whizzes. Women are exiting the workforce at a rate not seen since the beginning of the women’s rights movement in the 1970s. Women have traditionally held the service jobs nearly wiped out by the pandemic. Retail sales, the beauty industry, and restaurant work have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions. So, where does this leave women in 2021?

We need to forge ahead and build new networks. As the pandemic lessens its hold on our economy and vaccines become available to all, corporations will begin to bring teams back together. Instead of penalizing the woman on your staff who may have missed a Zoom call or two to teach high school calculus to her child, reward her for the exceptional skills she has learned these past 12 months. She is probably more efficient now than ever before. She has learned to prioritize. Talk to your colleagues to understand the new processes they have developed this year. They might hold the key to making your company stronger.

Many women who were furloughed or laid off have seen their entire field disappear. Let’s open new doors for them, help them train for open positions. Give an applicant the chance to show how their new survival skills are more important than what you listed on the job description.

Taylor Swift’s 2019 song “The Man” contains the lyric, “I’m so sick of running as fast as I can. Wonder if I’d get there quicker if I was a man?” Swift is unquestionably one of the top-selling musicians, male or female, of all time. Yet, even Swift questions whether the system has treated her fairly. 2021 has been a year of significant growth for women, and the Hampton Roads Chamber is proud to salute the groundbreakers. We are also here to help the struggling masses.

On May 12, Capt. Diana Wolfson will share her story for our Professional Women’s Leadership Series. On March 3 and April 27, we have two mental health experts speaking for our Power of Women series. Suzanne Fullwood of Optima Health will discuss the importance of emotional self-care, and then Heather Marie Van Cleave will discuss mental health awareness.

The chamber means business, and these are the new business survival skills for 2021. We need to be able to take care of ourselves to help those around us. Only then can we get back to climbing that fantasy ladder to break through that imaginary glass ceiling. Dichotomy marks the start of 2021, but perhaps we can shift now to unity.

The real power of women is visible when those at the top reach back to help those falling behind. Together we can appreciate the turmoil the pandemic has caused for working mothers and the gaping wound it has created in the part of their soul that propels them toward career success.

Priscilla Monti is senior vice president for programs and communications at the Hampton Roads Chamber. Reach her at PMonti@hrchamber.com.

Priscilla Monti
Senior Vice President, Programs & Communications
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