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Have Empathy, Respect Boundaries and Priorities, Be an Ally

March 23, 2021, 8:01 AM

For women, progress is perilous. The pandemic hasn’t just set us back—though it has done that in spades—it has magnified challenges we have faced all along.

As a woman who has been the “first’’ in a few different roles, I am often asked how to promote gender equity in the workplace. It’s an important discussion for people of all gender identities. For me, it’s a discussion that began at home—and continues there, as my husband and I raise three sons.

Both my parents worked outside the home. They supported each other through the various stages of their respective careers. And they pushed my two brothers and me equally hard. They didn’t let us abandon things that were difficult. “Kaminskys don’t quit,” they drilled into all three of us.

Over the years, their words have rung in my ears. But this year, my parents’ mantra has been harder than ever to live up to. And I recognize I come from a position of tremendous privilege; many others travel a much more difficult road. Still, in honor of Women’s History Month, I want to share three actions I believe can create a more equitable workplace for all women, especially those of us in professional services.

Embrace the Blurred Lines between Work and Personal Life

Many people, especially women, feel that in order to succeed professionally we must present ourselves in a specific way at work. Pre-pandemic, we would bring one part of ourselves to the office and keep other elements of our personal life separate. The last year of virtual work has blurred these lines. We can’t control when a child comes running into the background of a video call—and shouldn’t have to feel bad when they do.

I have found that being open with colleagues and clients about what is going on in my life outside of work can help build the strongest relationships. Over the last year especially, it has helped to not hide when I’m having a bad day. And I make a point of making room for others to do the same, like asking about the dog barking on a conference call, or introducing myself to the curious toddler who peeks into his mom’s home office.

We all need to bring more empathy to the people we work with every day, and not be afraid to share the realities of our personal lives at key moments. This is especially important to help women manage the extraordinary burdens and stresses brought by the pandemic, and frankly needs to remain important as we transition back into the workplace.

Rethink Responsiveness and Balance Priorities

For those of us working in professional services, responsiveness is critical. And with pressure to be “always on,” it can be difficult to carve out time to be present with family or grab a moment for well-being and self-care. This is a challenge for people of all gender identities. There are simple steps employees and managers can take to make things better.

For example, let’s all rethink responsiveness. Being responsive doesn’t have to mean immediately replying to someone with a complete answer. It can be quickly responding back to an email to acknowledge a request or question, noting that a more thorough response will come in a few hours or the next day. Ask when someone needs a deliverable to prioritize effectively and avoid artificial deadlines. I learned the importance of balancing my priorities early in my career, embracing habits like blocking family time on my calendar and, and keeping my work and personal phones separate while I was on maternity leave so I could truly “check out.” And I encourage my teams to do the same.

Managers should engage with their teams on this front as well. When my team is struggling to set boundaries and balance priorities, I remind them we don’t have to go it alone. Like many firms, PwC has an amazing Human Resources team that supports the 11,000 people in our Tax function and they help our staff, both men and women, sort through exactly what they need.

Setting boundaries and asking for help should be habitual and embraced.

Find Allies at Work

In order for all working women and working mothers to survive and thrive, we must have allies—both male and female—in our corner. This has always been true, but it is especially relevant now as the pandemic has exposed where support systems may be crumbling, or nonexistent, for women.

A recent PwC Workforce Pulse Survey showed that women aged 35 to 44, including working mothers, are more affected than other groups by the pressures of the pandemic. The majority said they feel stressed or anxious, with 70% of respondents feeling unable to ask for help in managing work-related stress. Having allies who support equity in the workplace can help.

I have a close group of other working mother partners at PwC who I talk to, swap advice with, and lean on. We are all allies for each other. These women, all in various life stages, keep me centered and supported when things get tough.

Men have a big role to play as well. Many of the lessons I’ve learned about being authentic and balancing priorities at work have come from male mentors, sponsors, and advocates. We need male allies to create an environment where working women, including working mothers are free to bring their whole selves to work and take advantage of flexible work arrangements without guilt. Male managers can do this by encouraging everyone on their teams to work flexibly and support others’ flexibility as well. Men should also model their roles as parents and caregivers. When a child runs into a video conference and a male leader embraces the chaos, it signals that it is safe and acceptable to balance personal and professional obligations.

Looking Forward

I’m raising my three boys to enter a workforce where they advocate for gender equity. It starts at home with the examples my husband and I set for them. We want to pay it forward for the next generation, just like my parents did for my brothers and me. (Thanks, mom and dad!)

As business leaders, we have a significant opportunity to level the playing field for the people we lead, especially those most impacted by the pressures of this pandemic. We have an obligation to empower our teams to be authentic, ask for help, and build a cohort of allies.

I’m worried that in two years, people will forget about this moment in time and revert back to old habits, making sustained progress for women even more perilous. As my parents always taught me, we can’t quit now. It’s up to all of us to embrace this moment and allow our workplaces to be changed. For good.

This column doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Kathryn Kaminsky is Vice Chair - Tax Leader at PwC.

Bloomberg Tax Insights articles are written by experienced practitioners, academics, and policy experts discussing developments and current issues in taxation. To contribute, please contact us at TaxInsights@bloombergindustry.com.

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