If there is anything society has learned throughout the past decade, it’s that women can be effective leaders and powerful agents of change. Corporate America, nonprofits and government entities have found that women decision-makers at all levels are not only critical to advancing diversity and gender parity, they also play a key role in furthering economic, social and political progress in all facets of American life.
Unfortunately, women are still very much underrepresented in leadership roles, a disparity that is felt in the boardroom, at upper-level management, middle management and further down to immediate supervisor roles.
That situation was only made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Women, who are often the primary caregivers in family settings, were forced to make a choice between career and family.
Like all employees, society has an obligation to protect women from harassment and violence in the workplace, as well as make sure they do not suffer from being isolated or overworked. Women need the same opportunity for advancement and rewards as their male counterparts.
As the clouds of COVID-19 begin to dissipate, women are facing more challenges than ever before. They need to regain what was lost and forge a new direction and path for the next generation of women leaders at all levels.
Cleveland Magazine’s Community Leader asked women leaders from across Northeast Ohio to share what they feel are the greatest challenges women are facing in the post-pandemic world. Here is what they had to say:
Dr. Marcia Ballinger
President, Lorain County Community College
Since becoming president of Lorain County Community College (LCCC) in 2016, Ballinger has remained true to her belief that every student’s dream matters and that higher education truly is the socioeconomic ladder to a vibrant future.
Women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic: More than 2 million left the workplace, and issues they faced before the pandemic, including pay inequity and the glass ceilings remaining in some industries, have been exacerbated.
The majority of our students are female, so I think about the bigger issues women struggle with because they’re the caregiver, they’re working and they’re their child’s teacher. They’re having to manage such a continuum with added stress. Women of color have even more burdens. As a society, we need to be more mindful of these issues as we move forward post-pandemic.
We have demonstrated such resilience, perseverance and innovation throughout the last 12 months. It’s a new day one, which gives us the opportunity to ask ‘What does the new normal look like?’ and ‘How do we take the best of what we have done and build upon that?’ We need to address family work-life balance, and employers have an opportunity to redesign how work occurs: Can it be remote? Can it be flexible?
At LCCC, we’re [in the process of] expanding our childcare services to evenings and weekends and are creating short-term certificate programs that earn industry credentials in fields with sustainable wages and greater staying power in which women have typically been underrepresented.
We’ve also increased our commitment to mental health support. We need to recognize how we can wrap our arms around every student and meet them where they are with the right set of services and programs.
Chief Executive, DigitalC
Baunach leads this nonprofit organization, which has a rich history of collaboration and connectivity to make Greater Cleveland’s digital future more equitable.
I’m not sure I have all of the answers, but here are some thoughts and questions we should be asking.
Women executives typically face more ladder-climbing challenges than men. And once they reach executive status, they believe they must work harder to continue to maintain rank. In addition, they usually shoulder the bulk of family caregiving responsibilities.
The pandemic has caused many women to reevaluate their priorities and pause their careers because the requirements of managing children who are pursuing education from home rather than in school added the final straw in their efforts to be superhuman and “have it all.”
What will it be like for those women who managed children learning from home and/or caring for aging parents while still working from home if they are able to return to the office once this pandemic is over? What if hybrid home/school learning or hybrid on-site/remote working is permanent? Will peers and colleagues look down on or penalize women if their decision is to continue working remote with only necessary on-site interactions with clients and colleagues?
Will women who have worked through the pandemic with or without children at home and are unable to socialize or visit parents and/or grandchildren be allowed to take an extended break to reunite with friends and family and for self-care?
For men and women, what will be the lingering consequences of days consumed by virtual meetings with no breaks in between and email and action item followups lasting late into the night and through the weekend? What has it taken or what will it take to keep teams safe and ensure a safe and healthy workplace?
Executives will have to address these issues, considering employees and their mental health needs.
CEO, Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Yandala has been CEO since 2002, managing the park’s education, cultural arts and volunteer programs, as well as its fundraising efforts. She is also a past-president and continues to serve on the Steering Committee of the National Park Friends Alliance.
Like many, I have had a lot of staff with very different experiences with COVID-19, depending on their families and personal situations. How do you be sensitive to the variety of ways people are coming back to the workplace? I think it will be far more important and acceptable to be compassionate and kind to create work-life balance. We have to be much more flexible.
There is an expectation of women to be nurturing. That’s not bad, although sometimes nurturing is viewed as weak. But I think of this as a time when women leaders can and should shine. We do have a tendency toward nurturing — it is in our spirits. This is a time when women leaders should claim that part of us, if it is indeed part of our leadership style. It will be needed now more than ever before.
Our national park, like other parks, has been a place of solace and respite during this past year. We need to continue to recognize that people need green spaces, quiet places and safe areas for families and friends to gather. Parks are inviting and welcoming to all. The end of the pandemic is not the end of conflicts and pain. Leaders need to work on healing and compassion going forward just as much as they did during this past year.
In my generation, there weren’t many strong women business leaders. My mom worked some, but for role models, we looked to men. But in many ways, I never felt like I had to be equal to a man. I can be equal by being who I am, using all of my emotional and intellectual spirit. Maybe we will have kinder, more sensitive workplaces, which could be more productive workplaces. It will be imperative for leaders to be willing to individualize our responses to the needs of customers, staff and, in our case, supporters and park visitors.
CEO, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District
Appointed CEO in 2017, Dreyfuss-Wells oversees wastewater treatment and stormwater management services for Northeast Ohio residents in Cleveland and 61 suburban communities in four counties.
I think the thing we need to realize is that for a lot of women coming back into the workforce post-pandemic or coming back into a full-time situation in the office, it is going to be a big transition.
They’ve been responsible for managing the ship at home — they’ve been responsible for homeschooling, they’ve been responsible for the ever-changing schedules their families may be experiencing. I realize there are a lot of men who have also had these responsibilities, but we’re talking about women, so I think we need to be straight up. They’ve put together this whole support network of friends and family, and that whole support network was taken away by COVID-19. The rebuilding effort is going to be really difficult and interesting.
At the end of the day, leadership has to be open. Being a leader means being open to discussion and good ideas. At the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, we’ve been very progressive. We’ve added a temporary flexible work arrangement policy and a dependent care policy to add more than 100 hours of paid leave to ensure people have the flexibility they need to balance home issues and COVID-19 concerns and continue to be able to do their work.
President and CEO, Western Reserve Historical Society
Falcone-Hall was named president and CEO of the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) in 2014. WRHS is one of the oldest cultural institutions in Northeast Ohio.
By comparison, women lost more jobs in 2020 than men. It’s for the reasons we all know. Childcare, meals, etc. still fall disproportionately to women — working women.
Reentry into the workforce is the biggest challenge women face. I know that I personally feel this way, and other women leaders feel this way, too. [We also need to return to] the positions that we had when we came into the pandemic, to be able to reenter the workforce at the same level of production and productivity where we were at the start of the pandemic. We also need to manage what is a very different work environment for so many of us.
Some women, depending on the company, will not go back to working on-site. And that’s a challenge not just for women, but for a lot of people — that face-to-face interaction that you had a year ago being upended overnight.
There’s privacy when it comes to your employees, the boundary between what’s happening in your personal life and what’s happening in your work life. We’ve always been very committed to respecting those boundaries. The events of 2020 that continue into 2021 will impact our people in a very personal way. Being acutely aware, flexible and kind is something that I truly hope all employers will do. I hope that it’s not something that ends when the pandemic is over.
CEO, College Now Greater Cleveland
Friedman, who took the helm of College Now Greater Cleveland in 2010, ensures the nonprofit fulfills its mission of helping students and adults in the community achieve post-secondary education and receive the support they need to complete it.
Men and women have both faced challenges. But I think women have faced some additional challenges, especially if they have family responsibilities, such as taking care of older parents or children. Sometimes, women wind up having to navigate everything while they also have a job they’re trying to do virtually.
I think the other thing that’s happened is women have disproportionately lost jobs during COVID-19 that may not be there when the pandemic ends, which means they may also be dealing with financial pressures.
The pandemic has caused a structural shift that takes a community effort to address. I think Cleveland has always been blessed. We have a big civic infrastructure, robust philanthropy and robust civic organizations. We have robust higher education; we have great community colleges. And we have a track record of working together and collaborating. You have to set your sights on a plan, create it, hold yourself accountable, measure it and find ways to reach out to the people who need it most.
State Representative, Ohio House District 11
Howse has been a member of the Ohio House of Representatives District 11 since 2015, currently representing 108,000 residents in parts of Cleveland, Newburgh Heights and Garfield Heights.
What women want and need in a post-pandemic world is what they centered on before — affordable housing, access to nutritious food for themselves and their families and a fair share. The pandemic threw women into overdrive, and they had to make some very hard choices. They had to choose to leave their kids at home, quit their jobs to be at home or find some way to work it out. A select few were able to get their children into someplace safe so they could go to work. But it wasn’t possible for enough women.
Also, we don’t talk about it much, but when many women move into retirement, they are subjected to poverty. It’s all based on our how our current systems are designed — to perpetuate policies that inherently ignore women.
Those of us who understand that this is happening have to remain vigilant and bring to light these things that wreak havoc in women’s lives. We have to be more aggressive in our direct connection with women and organize them. We need them to use their political power to elect people who understand and have a true commitment to creating fairer policies not just on a local level, but also up to the federal government. We must let women flex their political muscles because we are in a system that is not proactive. It is very reactionary. The system will not change unless we force it.
But it doesn’t have to even be a law. Companies should recognize that the world would not exist without women. If women didn’t show up at work for four weeks, whether they were neuroscientists or clerks in a library, it would show their efforts lead to someone else’s success, and they should get a fair share. Women say, ‘But there would be retaliation.’ But the world and its economy could not exist without women.
President and CEO, Greater Cleveland Food Bank
Warzocha, who joined Greater Cleveland Food Bank in 2000, leads the organization’s fundraising efforts. She also focuses on directing marketing, volunteerism and advocacy for programs.
Throughout the past year, I have seen and heard the heartbreaking stories of parents who never needed assistance having to turn to us for help. Struggling with lost jobs, fewer hours or with children learning at home, expenses have risen while savings have evaporated.
As a mother, it has been extremely difficult to hear these stories. Together with our partners, we have served more than 50,000 new families in the past year -— double the number of new families previously served. The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has been hardest on women, people of color and low-paid workers, and the economic impact will likely take much longer to recover from than the disease itself.
I am hopeful. I have learned a lot the past year and been reminded that with determination, the community can solve almost any problem.
There is a higher level of awareness and appreciation for the systemic racism that burdens our clients and community, as well as a renewed resolve around addressing inequity. There are efforts that have been put in place to provide improved access to services for those who need them most. There are temporary waivers that have been put in place to improve access to public assistance that have worked as intended.
We have seen the best of our community, and we have been inspired by how people have stepped up to help their neighbors in need. If we can come together to effectively serve our neighbors during a worldwide pandemic, why not continue these efforts in the long run?
President and CEO, Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Winner was named president and CEO of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 2018. Prior to joining the museum she served as vice president for university development at Columbia University.
First of all, I think we all have to acknowledge that this has been a difficult time. I think acknowledging that and being authentic about that is important.
There is a lot of data showing that the impact of COVID-19 has really hit women, especially working parents. My hope is that we start to have a national discourse on childcare and what that means as a society. I think that’s the biggest thing that any parent in particular struggles with as they’re trying to balance everything. I hope that we look at that. From government to businesses, everyone should be thinking about what we can do as a community to help in that area.
We are working on a remote work policy. I think our whole idea of work and having to be somewhere, chained to a desk, is going to be different post-pandemic. We’ve been working on that with our employees to see what kind of flexibility they will need.
We have five weeks of paid time off for every employee. At the director level, it’s seven weeks. Last March, we decided that we would give everyone an extra two weeks of personal time off. We knew that schools were closing and people were adjusting to different schedules. We knew that people were taking care of parents. You know, [caring for children] is not the only thing that we, as professionals, do. We take care of all different age groups. So we thought that it would be only fair to give everyone an extra two weeks so that they could figure this out and try to plan as best they could. We also instituted hazard pay for people who are working every day at the museum.