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 Sylvia Banderas Coffinet, GM of multicultural brand partnerships and marketing at Group Nine Media, has been lightly edited for clarity.
What has the past year been like for you personally?
This year has tested my ability to manage everything: mindset, time, family, motherhood, and work-life boundaries. It’s healthy and necessary to acknowledge that we’re all facing extraordinary pressures daily as a result of the pandemic and the tumultuous political and social climate. This massive disruption can take a considerable personal toll.
I’ve had to redefine achievement, productivity and success. I’ve had to get back to basics, understanding that the basics are more important now than ever: health, well-being, meaningful work, family, joy, and even hope have all taken on new meaning.
How have you managed through isolation, burnout and other challenges?
Empathy has been my guiding principle. I have extended myself and everyone around me as much grace and understanding as I can muster. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, tired, frustrated or simply not yourself. We need to make the space to honor those feelings. Self-awareness is the first step to coping with constant adversity, which right now is another very real pandemic.
I actively seek meaning, purpose and hope daily through mindfulness and little rituals that spark joy: from mini hide-and-seek sessions and shadow puppet shows with my little one, to candle-lit, guided meditations dedicated to family and friends I can’t see in person, to rediscovering the lost art of letter writing, to watching El Dodo videos with my daughter to get the warm and fuzzies.
It’s necessary to prioritize self-care and replenish our mental and physical energy. I have been using meditation apps and breathing techniques to ground myself. Above all, I am leaning into humility and hope for brighter days.
What strategies have you used to balance work and home life?
I see work-life balance less as a scale and more like a pendulum that swings in one direction or another, depending on the day. I don’t romanticize balance. For me, it’s a key to staying clear-eyed about my dedication to my profession. I do not apologize for it and I do not allow myself to wallow in mom guilt. I just don’t find that to be a good use of my energy.
Working parents face constant impossible choices. My 5-year-old doesn’t always get that I can be home and not be accessible. I constantly have to work through how to make sure she doesn’t feel rejected because I’m not present, even if I am just a few feet away. That’s not easy.
But I accept that the line between work and home is extremely blurred and it’s up to me to set boundaries. I also accept how to make space for our new reality. Once in a while, that includes my little one hugging me in the middle of a Zoom call. It’s important to be human and realistic about our limitations when work is mixed up with home and there’s no physical separation. To some extent, it’s best to find reasonable ways to integrate the two realities.
What can we do in our industry about the current crisis of women leaving the workforce?
A first step is acknowledging that women are more dramatically impacted than men in this remote work world. We are expected to home school, work from home (if we have that privilege) and always be “on.” We are also dealing with limited childcare options. Ask your teammates how they are doing with empathy and open communication. The more people are honest about their needs, the better we can support them.
We also need to look at how we manage our collective time. This plays a role in how effective and efficient we can be. We need encourage breaks while we’re all struggling with chronic pressure and fatigue.
What progress has the industry made in achieving gender parity and what still needs to be done?
Gender parity looks dramatically different after 2020. Last year certainly had a negative impact on progress made over generations.
Prior to 2020, progress was most visible in the number of senior roles occupied by white women. After 2020, we see clearly that women, especially BIPOC women, have been disproportionately laid off or quit their jobs to care for children. These challenges are complex and systemic and there is no simple solution.
Companies must support and flexibility. Training is crucial to prevent bias against working mothers and shift the office culture. Communication, flexibility, empathy are core to a successful company culture right now. We have to make work sustainable, as this is most definitely not a sprint, but a marathon.
What work can still be done to address the disproportionate impact this crisis has on BIPOC women?
On top of the struggles of COVID, BIPOC women are dealing with chronic mental fatigue, frustration, sadness and anger that 2020’s highly tense climate has unearthed. We’re all feeling it, but the proximity and direct impact of these issues on BIPOC communities, especially women, cannot be taken for granted. Acknowledging this added layer of stress matters. DE&I efforts need an intersectional approach and more readily available resources.
While there are no silver bullets, perhaps the most important thing is pay equity. According to the Center for American Progress, Black women make $0.62 cents, and Latinx women make $0.54 cents, to the White man’s dollar. This disparity limits key resources like full-time child care. Addressing this would be one crucial step towards significant progress.