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 Veronica Millan, global chief information officer at MullenLowe Group, has been lightly edited for clarity.
What has the past year been like for you personally?
Before the first shutdown, I was traveling about half the time. All that ground to a halt.
I’m based in New York City. The spring was terrifying. COVID-19 cases were very high and my anxiety was through the roof. Since I am responsible for technology globally at MullenLowe Group, I also had the pressure of making sure everyone could work effectively remotely. My team did what tech people do best: solved problems with real business and health consequences creatively under pressure.
Despite that, some good came from this past year — like actually spending time at home rather than a plane or hotel room. It’s given my body a chance to rest, catch up on sleep and eat better than ever. My family and I bought the place we were renting. We also succumbed to getting a “pandemic puppy”: a cockapoo called Maximilian von Pupperstein.
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 remembered I wasn’t the only one in this situation, and many more were struggling worse than I was. As the entire globe went through the same thing together, I felt a morbid sense of community with my fellow humans. I wasn’t the only one unable to visit friends or family. Maybe it’s true that misery loves company.
Another thing that helped was moving my body. I tried new exercise programs on Zoom to release the stress from long days at work.
What can we do in our industry about the current crisis of women leaving the workforce?
Our industry should break free of pre-COVID molds of working. Prior to the pandemic, we set “core hours” in London, where all meetings take place from 10am to 4pm, and outside hours are spent on work. It’s a brilliant way of setting priorities that can help women navigate additional burdens at home.
Our industry has the benefit of being based on creativity and intellectual property. That gives us incredible flexibility in how we perform our work. This last year, we’ve learned we can all do it from home.
Although the definition of a family and traditional gender roles have changed, many women still carry the load of running a household. We need to educate men on sharing the workload at home and empower women to delegate duties more effectively. Globally, we should promote government policies that extend women’s rights into the workplace and offer subsidized childcare.
What progress has the industry made in achieving gender parity? What still needs to be done?
The industry has a lot more women than ever, but we still have a long way to go to get them into executive management roles. We’ve figured out how to attract women and use their skills, but we need to work harder at putting them in those high-visibility, high-responsibility roles. Women need to make up at least half of executive management teams, and major holding companies need to promote women as CEOs.
Something is happening in the mid-management level that’s not putting women on that path. Whether women are paying a motherhood penalty or are not perceived as “executive” enough, we need to find the root of the problem and remove those obstacles. Sadly, a lot of women leave companies because of microaggressions or sexual harassment — both of which are unacceptable and can take out quality people from reaching executive ranks.
What work can still be done to address the disproportionate impact on this crisis has had on BIPOC women?
We don’t always understand the concerns of BIPOC communities when we discuss company or government policies. As a Latina, I know Latinx communities tend to be close-knit and live in multigenerational households. That explains why this community so affected by COVID. Parents and kids that bring the virus home can spread it to grandparents, who parents often rely on for child-care. Government policies around COVID don’t address this.
We know that BIPOC women are most affected by this pandemic, both from responsibilities at home and associated health risks. We have to be more aware of what might be happening at home to address this. We must address immediate needs with things like online babysitters or tutors, or cleaning or laundry services. But we also have to create medium-term programs addressing gender bias at work, and create long-term policies such as flexible hours and lobby government for better policies.
How can the industry support women in the workforce during this stressful time?
Our industry has to ensure that women are being paid and promoted, especially for work they accomplished during one of the most difficult times in recent history.
With the uncertainty surrounding reentry into the workplace, we need to make the transition as seamless as possible. We need flexible time policies. We must find ways to work differently. Women may need more time to ease back into the workplace to plan for coverage at home.
We also have to recognize burnout and make it acceptable to take time to recharge, especially when we live at work. We may not be able to fix what’s happening in women’s families or personal lives, but at least we can address what happens at work.