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Women Balance Clouds and Silver Linings While Working from Home

April 30th, 2020

For professional women, the COVID-19 pandemic is an exercise in patience, organization and self-forgiveness.  Every experience is different, depending on each unique situation; but the ability to work effectively from home, number and age of children, support from a partner, or amount of isolation all influence personal journeys during this time of sheltering in place.

In the architecture and engineering industry, many women have continued to work from home during the pandemic.  At Galloway, this has been a mixed blessing for some as the workload remains strong, but it is being managed amongst the challenges and distractions of home life.

“My tipping point was when I started doing laundry and cleaning the house at 1 a.m.  I thought miraculously this whole thing would get easier, but it’s not,” reflected one of Galloway’s professionals.

Galloway is proud to employ more women than the A/E industry average, and Galloway’s organization for women, GROW (Galloway Respects Opportunities for Women), has become an important avenue for women to support each other through regular virtual get-togethers.

“It has been a great way for women to connect – not for gripe sessions, but just to be real with each other,” says Jan White, Galloway’s director of human resources.

A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll in March, before many of the stay-at-home orders went into effect, indicated that overall women worried more than men about the impact of the pandemic on their families, finances and mental health.  “For many women, particularly those with children at home, the coronavirus pandemic has given new urgency to many of the challenges that they have long been confronting,” states the KFF.

Discussions during GROW virtual get-togethers have ranged from feeling isolated and overwhelmed, to developing healthy self-care routines, to accepting that it is ok if your son fixes a bowl of whipped cream for a snack, as long as he lets you continue working.

“It’s important to share when we are vulnerable and to ask for help,” says one GROW participant.

However, some women are also seeing a light at the end of the tunnel as discussions begin about coming out of quarantine, and there is starting to be a shift in mindset now, says White.

Still, communicating with each other is more important than ever.

“We want people to recognize what that right balance is so we can support it,” says Tasha Bolivar, Galloway principal.  “Nobody should be afraid to raise their hand and ask for help, especially in times like these.  You might feel ok one week, then the next week you feel that you need that extra help and support.”

“The biggest thing is that we are all still a team, and we will figure it out as a team. That is how Galloway has always operated, and it is how we will continue to operate,” adds Bolivar.

One way the federal government is helping is through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), otherwise known as the emergency family and medical leave expansion act.  This act provides assistance to individuals who take time off from work due to family obligations during the pandemic.

According to White, this act gives women who are juggling the demands of work, caring for a child whose daycare is closed, or homeschooling obligations the option of deciding can I do this, or can I not?  As it becomes clearer that we are in this for a while, this act can be a valuable lifeline.  “You never know what support systems a person has, and there is still a lot of uncertainty about what the future looks like,” says White.

However, GROW discussions have also focused on the “silver linings” hidden among the challenges.  At the top of the list is more quality family time, more frequent conversations with extended family, and work teams getting to know each other better through numerous virtual happy hours.

A key question that we will be asking, says White, is how can we take the positives from this experience and maintain them in our personal and professional lives?  “Hopefully we have learned that it is ok to be a professional woman and also be real.”

White adds, “This is going to help affirm how important our families are, and how can we maintain a stronger balance between being with our families, being a good employee, and bringing our full selves to the office as well.”

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