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 Jude Cohen, social strategist and copywriter at Ogilvy NY, has been lightly edited for clarity.
What has the past year been like for you personally?
To say the past year has been challenging might be the understatement of the century.
I’ve been managing dissonance — the gratitude I have for my job, the anger I feel at injustice in the world, the difficulty of coming to terms with being an adult living at home with my parents, the privilege bound up in doing so, and the struggle of family health issues. I think it’s safe to say that the year was net negative.
That’s a hard thing for an eternal optimist like me to admit, especially as last year did have some personal high moments. I can’t discount those, but they are outweighed by the personal and collective grief of the pandemic.
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’m being more intentional about disconnecting from screens when I’m not working. Spending all day in the same place, looking at Zoom or social media for work, calls for the opposite in order to recharge.
I move my body (sometimes that means more Zoom for a workout class), and I spend time reading, journaling and creating. I’ve become religious about the weekend as my time to forget that the world of emails, Slacks and virtual meetings exists.
I try to look forward to little things, whether that’s a Zoom workout class with friends or a distanced outdoor dinner. I’m a hyper-social person, but even my energy for social interactions has decreased, so I carefully vet in-person activities for safety and space them out to avoid burnout.
What can we do in our industry about the current crisis of women leaving the workforce?
It starts by recognizing emotional work as work. It’s a burden that women bear the brunt of, and it can take many forms. I see it in how childcare is unevenly split among heterosexual couples in my family, even when both parents have full time jobs. I see it when daughters are the default caretaker of their parents, rather than multiple sons. I see it intergenerationally.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’re all human, even at work. We are not the sum of our productivity. The 40-hour, 5-day work week was not built for women. Like other societal structures, it was built for men who work all day and come home to a house organized and tended by women. While that may have been the shining ideal of 1950s America, we’ve long since left that relic in the past where it belongs. Why, then, haven’t we left the structures that upheld it there too?
As a creative industry, we take more liberties with traditional ideas of work, so we’re uniquely poised to be even more flexible to allow women to stay in the workforce. Requirements to work at least 40 hours per week forces the binary of work or life, instead of embracing the possibility of work and life.
What progress has the industry made in achieving gender parity? What still needs to be done?
While more intentional in the last decade, progress still has a ways to go. Since starting my career in advertising, I’ve looked to a wealth of women as beacons. There are power women at all levels at Ogilvy, and they recognize that a rising tide lifts all boats. I feel incredibly lucky to have had them as mentors.
That said, there’s still a lot of progress to be made, and not just for women. Gender parity embraces all genders. I don’t know of a single gender-neutral bathroom within my agency’s walls. Where would I take a client or a new hire who doesn’t identify within the gender binary — to the bar next door? Accessibility is just one of the calls we need to answer as an industry, from bathrooms to boardrooms.
I also can’t name a single exec who’s not cisgender. We won’t be equal until we’re all equal.
What work can still be done to address the disproportionate impact this crisis has on BIPOC women?
Women are leaving the workforce in part due to inequitable pay. BIPOC women are affected even more drastically by this inequity. The discrepancy needs to be addressed and adjusted immediately.
Black and brown communities have also been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, for so many reasons that require systemic change: racially biased zoning, historical medical mistreatment leading to mistrust and so much more. I don’t have a band-aid or quick fix solution, but it starts with prioritizing the voices of BIPOC women. At this point, inclusion isn’t enough. We need to make them our priority.
How can the industry support women in the workforce during this stressful time?
Again, there is no simple solution. We can take tangible actions, like eradicating pay discrepancies and ensuring women have safe ways to ask for help if they’re experiencing domestic violence — also exacerbated by the pandemic.
Structural changes, such as a more flexible work week, and systemic changes, like addressing bias in our healthcare system, aren’t going to happen overnight. By prioritizing all women’s voices, especially women of color, trans women, and those who don’t exist within the gender binary, our industry can keep this conversation top-of-mind outside of Women’s History Month and throughout the rest of the year.