Women who work discussing women at work – a panel in celebration of International Women’s Day

March 10, 2020
From left to right, moderator Nicole Graham of Pact with panelists Dr. Samantha Attard of Spiro Collective, Mary Kate Costello of The Hunger Project and Debbie Pollock-Berry of Save the Children

Women’s role in the workforce has been a hot topic for decades. Although we still have a long way to go to reach true gender equality, women are working in every industry there is, from top leadership roles down to internships and entry-level college graduates.

In honor of this journey, in acknowledgement of how far society still must go, and in celebration of International Women’s Day, Pact employees gathered in our conference room this week to listen to a panel discussion that focused less on the work women are doing and more on the circumstances in which they are doing it.  

The panel was comprised of three women who are all in the business of “helping others” in one way or another—a local businesswoman who owns her own Ayurveda practice, a Senior Policy Analyst & UN Representative from The Hunger Project, and the Chief Human Resources Officer for Save the Children.

This kind of work is not unique to these industries or even to these roles, but it presents a special challenge for women in the workplace, who are expected to be innately better at, more devoted to, and more suited for “helpful” careers or roles by virtue of being women.

When asked how they avoid falling prey to gendered expectations and burnout, each panelist offered tips for self-care—ensuring quality time with pets, friends and family, making time for morning workouts or stretches, finding funny television shows or watching stand-up comedy to make yourself laugh, any way in which you can carve out time for activities that rejuvenate instead of drain you.

“Make sure you’re taking care of yourself so you can help others,” explained Dr. Samantha Attard, owner of Ayurveda practice Spiro Collective. She went on to explain that when women take care of themselves and find balance between helping others and helping themselves, it’s easier to be less devastated when getting passed up for advancement in the workplace, and it’s easier to find the compassion and drive to lift up fellow women in the workplace.

On that subject, Debbie Pollock-Berry, Chief HR Officer for Save the Children, said that “the best thing you can do,” to lift up your female coworkers “is ask for her opinion.” Often, women speak up and aren’t heard, or have trouble finding their avenue through which to speak up at all. Taking the time to single out your coworker and ask her opinion, especially when you know she has one, is a key step in creating an inclusive workplace.

When asked about steps that managers can take to create inclusive workplaces for their entire team, Pollock-Berry said they should “have the uncomfortable conversations” with their employees, and “check in more frequently than just during performance reviews.”

When it comes to young women, Mary Kate Costello, Senior Policy Advisor & UN Representative with The Hunger Project, explained that through her experience working on youth programming, she learned that “youth are not a homogenous group.” Youth who are LGBTQ, she volunteered as an example, may have different needs and concerns than youth who are heterosexual.

“There is a lot to be learned from our millennial workforce,” Pollock-Berry added. Dr. Attard gave an example of how transformative that belief can be: When she was pursuing her PhD in nutrition at UNC Chapel Hill, a well-regarded, highly published professor who was several years Dr. Attard’s senior approached her one day and said, “Hey, I heard you know how to do this thing, can you teach me how to do that?”

Dr. Attard explained that she was so flattered by the earnest way her mentor listened to her for the 20 minutes while she explained how to do the thing that it totally shifted her perspective—both on her own capabilities and the capabilities of others.