It goes without saying that it has been a tough year in the world of business. When the pandemic hit the world in March, many businesses had to change the way they operated overnight in order to survive. Whilst the majority of us were forced to make the change to work from home, many people had to juggle redundancies, childcare and home schooling. Now more than ever, we need increased sensitivity, intuition, emotional intelligence and strong communication at board level.
We caught up with Barbara Brown, a partner at the firm Positive Momentum. Both she and the team she works alongside understand the day to day challenges we all face, as they have lived through them. And as a long standing supporter of our brand and Bags of Joy club, we had a little chat about handbags too...
Hey Barbara! There's been huge speculation that women will have to work harder than men after the pandemic. Do you think this will end up pushing us back in time, after we have fought so hard for equality?
No, I think we need to keep focused on finding great ways to showcase skillsets and add value in our work life and personal activities. I also think it’s really important that we look out for opportunities to call out issues that are likely to be an issue. I think all genders are facing new challenges as well as many of the pre existing ones to much greater extents at the moment and will do going forward.
Around the world, working women were faced with the brutally hard choice about whether to stay home if they hadn't already been laid off during the pandemic due to childcare issues. What's the best way for mother's to stay on top of their word, as well as supporting their child's education?
Lots of working fathers and carers are facing the same challenges too. I’ve seen many of my clients, male and female, cope brilliantly throughout the period under ever changing restrictions. I’ve supported some who were being way too hard on themselves early on trying to build the perfect plan for each day. I think those that got better at re framing priorities and building in time to relax and enjoy less regimented time with their children coped really well. I love to hear of the various ways people made time for themselves to recharge the batteries when the mayhem got too much. I smiled one day on a call when a client was clearly in a box-room broom cupboard. She said with a smile it was the only room she could lock and be assured of peace and quiet!
Many mothers are worried that they're putting themselves at risk of redundancy, or getting into trouble at work because they haven't been able to perform as well as they usually do. How do you think they should combat this fear?
I don’t think this worry is one that is specific to mothers. I think lots of people are balancing parental responsibilities, care for wider family networks, financial challenges with reduced working options to name just a few of the real life day to day issues. I’m a great believer in speaking up and alerting those that are in control of the organisation or team that some extra support is required or that a more flexible working arrangement would help to optimise their performance. I think great leaders try hard to spot those that are not coping as well but in these times when they aren’t seeing their people every day they too need help to make sure they know where their intervention and support could make an enormous difference. Don’t assume that the boss is a mind reader or that they’ll refuse a reasonable request to get some extra support!
Seek help from colleagues too –share what’s bothering you and look for support and ideas. Don’t imagine that everyone is coping brilliantly they won’t be. Really manage the time you spend reading lots of negative media updates – it can get overwhelming to limit it and chose a healthy mix of update sources.
Is it in the best interest of corporations to create a 'new normal' once the pandemic is over?
For many they already had great cultures and they’ve totally excelled in rising to the new challenges. Undoubtedly some have been left sadly lacking in showing empathy and building good flexibility into working patterns. I’ve been amazed at how many organisations have fast tracked their plans and cut through bureaucracy to implement great new working methods and options. Long may that agility and common sense prevail.
How do you think corporations avoid falling back into 'bad habits' once the pandemic is over?
Listen to their staff, seek input from their customers, really look outwards to their external environments and don’t get bogged down in the small stuff. Raise the sense of purpose in what they can contribute to their community too – a great way to capture new ideas and attract good people to the organisations.
Do you think it would only be fair for companies to take a more "compassionate look" and offer more flexible work options to suit employees' personal circumstances going forward?
I do yes – I think it’s vital that leaders and business owners look for ways to support while balancing the commercial realities of running the business.
Although things are changing, many firms still give off strong signals that they are not supportive of women in leadership roles. However, given the leadership performance of women such as Angela Merkel, Jacinda Ardern and Nicola Sturgeon through the pandemic compared to their male peers, this is somewhat arguable. They were very direct and took more of a 'go hard and go early' approach. This is a true credit to these women being confident in their decision making, and it has clearly paid off. How do we. as women, learn to adapt this confidence?
I think confident leaders often reach out to help sponsor and mentor the next generation of leaders. I also believe that these role models will make time to support others when asked – more people should take the chance on asking for help – don’t put it off, genuinely seek help and guidance.
How did you personally get on during the pandemic? How did you feel about working from home, and how easy was it for you to adapt?
I’m not a natural home worker. I thrive on the buzz of travel and interaction with others. I’ve taken the view it’s a privilege to be safe and healthy and that compromise is vital if we are to get through this testing time. I’ve loved spending more time with my husband and my adorable dog. My exercise regime has shifted indoors to speed spin and weights in the garage instead of the gym and lots of much longer walks. I’ve got a great network of friends so we have kept in regular contact. Work wise I am delighted to say that our partners across the consultancy practice have been the most collaborative, supportive team ever. Clients have been so supportive of working flexibly, we have been delivering programmes online and hosting numerous onsites online that would have been offsites in other circumstances.
We love that you took your Sarah Haran handbag to your home office everyday! It's so important to have a sense of 'normality' when going through a big change to help. What do you love so much about Sarah Haran bags?
I love the variety of options, the sustainability factor and the sheer added flair and style that Sarah brings to her designs.
You've been a fantastic supporter of our brand, an an integral part of our Bags of Joy community. What have you enjoyed about being part of the Joy Squad?
I’ve loved the way the group has grown and is sharing lots of great personal stories and experiences which plays a huge part in building a really strong sense of camaraderie. I also think the support to grow the brand and support Sarah in her journey comes alive every time we share photos to promote the quality and style of the every growing range of products. The chance to socialise online has been great too with special guest sessions.
If you'd like to find out more about Barbara and her company, Positive Momentum, you can check out their website here.