In honor of Women’s History Month, Campaign US is checking in with women across the industry, from all career levels, on how they’ve navigated the past year personally and professionally.
This interview with Isabel Rendon, planner at BBDO NY, has been lightly edited.
What has the past year been like for you personally?
It feels like time has lost its meaning. But there have been plenty of highs and lows.
I’ve noticed a collective consciousness during the pandemic. In the moments when I feel my lowest dips, it seems like the rest of society is experiencing the same emotions. Sometimes I can’t tell if what I’m feeling is a part of the pandemic experience, or if I’m running through the emotions of my own life.
How have you managed through isolation, burnout and other challenges of the past year? What strategies have you used to balance work and home life?
I’ve noticed I do best when I’m protecting my time — when I maintain a regular workout schedule, log off at a reasonable hour and remember to stretch! I don’t feel like a functioning human when I don’t stretch!
I also try to extend grace to myself, and honor the fact that ‘doing my best’ looks different depending on the day. Sometimes my best is just making it through the day. To show up in the best way for the long run, I have to be attuned to that.
What can we do in our industry about the current crisis of women leaving the workforce?
We can do more to support motherhood. We’re all aware by now of the ‘second shift.’ The pressure to raise kids is disproportionately placed on mothers, and children need their mother present in their early years.
We can allow mothers to be their whole selves instead of forcing them to compartmentalize to seem ‘professional.’ That means embracing kids screaming in the background of meetings and breast feeding during calls. Stop equating ‘professionalism’ with being buttoned up, and allow people to show up as people and parents.
Raising a whole human is just as important, if not more, than working on a project. We should all do our part to reduce the guilt mothers feel about how they show up for work.
What progress has the industry made in achieving gender parity? What still needs to be done?
I see more women in leadership roles. We’re making a lot of progress in recognizing and respecting the way women present themselves differently.
Culturally, we’re seeing more feminine soft skills as assets. I remember being taught not to say ‘I feel like’ when expressing a POV, because it’s not declarative enough and doesn’t sound strong. But being considerate of others and using collaborative language IS a strength. So I’m glad to see we’re not just equating strong leadership qualities with masculine attributes.
But women still need equal space in culture and in the workplace. We still live in a society where men’s stories are cultural staples. What you bring to the table professionally is shaped by what you introduce in your life personally, particularly the content you digest and the sources you gravitate to. Read our books, learn about our contributions. Women can be role models for everyone, not just women. Acknowledge that our perspective has value beyond ‘girl power’.
What work can still be done to address the disproportionate impact this crisis has on BIPOC women?
Recognizing context is key. Women’s issues look different and have a different impact depending on their backgrounds. Navigating the world as a woman isn’t the only challenge we face.
There are different stigmas attached to combinations of race and gender. Black Women experience certain stigmas that others might not understand. One woman’s story isn’t going to look like another’s. People live within their context. So we must ensure that feminism fights for and includes the narratives of all women.
How can the industry support women in the workforce during this stressful time?
The narrative of ‘doing it all’ is toxic. Allowing women to be present for other obligations will protect their ability to perform their best, instead of pressuring them to put in extra hours behind the scenes to ‘make up’ for time.
This involves men stepping up. I remember overhearing a middle-aged man in the agency cafe talking to his work buddy as he described himself as ‘Mr. Mom’ because he had to drive his kids around for the week. I was taken aback that someone still used language like that. If caring for your kids is being ‘Mr. Mom,’ then what role is ‘Dad’ supposed to fill?
Parity in the home is key to parity in the workplace.