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“We are seeing it in the chat, people saying ‘I’m drowning, I’m struggling, I’m overwhelmed.’ I’m sure we have all used that language in one way or another.”
Maxie McCoy, a women’s leadership expert and author of the book You’re Not Lost, took a moment to address the comments flooding in from more than one thousand people logged into T-Mobile’s new “Intersections” speaker series that was held recently. The virtual program was created by the company’s Women’s & Allies Network (WAN) as part of its latest renewed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts after its merger with Sprint earlier this year, which skyrocketed the WAN group’s membership to over 17,600.
The purpose of the event was to explore how employees’ identities (and current realities) shape their experiences at work. And the premiere topic, “Women and Working from Home: How to Prevent Downshifting,” clearly struck a chord with the audience. While the network had previously been focusing on creating career development opportunities for hundreds of employees through dozens of events nationwide, the term “downshifting” suddenly became a common obstacle after the COVID-19 pandemic forced many employees to work from home. Suddenly, it became less about being aware of available opportunities and more that they felt unable to take them.
Downshifting can be characterized by an employee’s decision to stay in a lower-paying job, accept less prominent roles or leave their employment altogether. Historically for women it’s been the natural result of a lack of affordable childcare solutions. That reality was noticeably paused during World War II when women were needed to replace jobs left by men fighting overseas and a federally subsidized network of childcare facilities was established. It’s been a long time since that aid ended, and recent post-pandemic labor numbers show the risk of downshifting now weighing most heavily on low-income and minority women, especially in the service industry.
And for many of those women who aren’t dropping out in other fields, like the panelists in one of T-Mobile’s virtual events, that downshift is revealing itself in the way they and their women colleagues show up to work — not raising their hands nor actively taking a seat at the table as a means of survival until this pandemic passes.
“There is an opportunity for those unofficial mentorship spaces,” said Nathasha Smith, a Customer Care Closed Loop Manager who moved from a call center in Virginia to working from home with a teenage son in remote school, when asked how she’s leveraging the perks of a virtual work environment to combat the risk of isolation. “There’s an opportunity to have a conversation with new people or get support from someone even if they don’t realize they’re helping me in a space I might need – that’s the allyship I see.”
“Inclusion relies on allyship and success partners in the workplace,” added Shwetha Kamala, an IT Vendor Manager. “We have regular check-ins to ask how we can help each other with our own unique challenges. It helps to ask for help. It helps to say I am overwhelmed.”
The panel discussed how leaders, teammates and allies can specifically support women within T-Mobile by sharing their tactics to solve the problems they face:
The panelists, who agreed that leaving their jobs would not even be a viable economic option for them, admitted the only way they feel they could maintain their lead roles in the home and the home office was to normalize the daily mixture of the personal and professional with their entire teams. There’s no hiding one from the other during neatly separated hours. They had to exist in parallels during the day.
After the event, Nelly Pitocco, VP of Solution Engineering and Innovation at T-Mobile for Business, shared: “Knowing we are not alone in how we feel can be cathartic and, in this case, opened the door to supporting each other by sharing tips and strategies beyond the hour-long virtual panel and onto Slack. I hope we will continue the conversation. Sometimes lending an ear can make all the difference.”
By actively exploring ways to open up the dialogue towards understanding differences, a clearer light is shined on the ways T-Mobile says it can support people experiencing a disproportionately negative affect from this pandemic. While the pandemic has exposed a weakness in this country concerning how we support women — especially caretakers — it’s companies like T-Mobile that are taking intentional actions to open the dialogues to expose and then address those inequities that are setting themselves apart from the pack.
A version of this article was originally published on T-Mobile’s website.
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