While teleworking during the pandemic, women have had to balance work and home responsibilities while still attempting to achieve corporate goals and managing teams and customer needs. Women in the Federal sector discussed the positives and negatives of telework, and the urgency to have women rejoin the workforce on July 14 during a Women in Leadership Forum hosted by ACT-IAC.

When Federal agencies were forced into a largescale telework environment, many in the Federal space were forced to learn new skills and software to continue to meet operational needs within their agencies. Along with that learning, Federal workers began to see opportunities for more extensive connectivity around the country.

“Our events use to be able only to house a couple of hundred people. That number has now grown because of the technological capabilities we are utilizing in this telework environment,” said Ashley Wilson, vice president of Congressional and Public Affairs and executive director of Women Taking the Lead at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Yet, while these technological capabilities allowed for more extensive connectivity, Federal employees needed to be intentional with their communications to maintain existing relationships and create new ones, Wilson added.

Additionally, when Federal agencies were forced to enter a telework environment, many Federal leaders like Dr. Ileana Arias, science advisor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), were worried about the level of employee productivity. However, they found that productivity levels did not decline; in fact, they increased as Federal employees remained in a telework environment.

“We had never changed from an in-office work environment to telework at such a large scale. Many supervisors believed that productivity would go down because they wouldn’t be able to monitor their team. And when forced upon us, it very quickly became evident that those fears were unfounded,” said Arias.

But the rise in productivity also came at the expense of employees’ work-life balance. The line between work and personal life was blurred, which became a challenge, specifically with children.

“Productivity was never an issue. But team culture was a challenge. Yet this challenge did push the importance of individual wellness to team leaders and the need for support to sustain work-life wellness. And to support our team’s transparency was key,” said Wilson.

And this was a challenge that disproportionally affected women. According to the panelist, the pandemic upended many women’s work-life balance, affecting physical health, mental health, and calling into question current and long-term career prospects due to longer work while handling extra caregiving duties. Consequently, nearly three million U.S. women dropped out of the labor force in the past year.

“As individuals, women need to make a conscious effort whether in a telework or in-office environment to increase their visibility,” said Arias. At the same time, “agencies and leaders also need to make a conscious effort to expand their circle of contacts creating more opportunities for other employees, like women, and eliminating any biases that may exist,” she said.

Therefore, agencies mustn’t return to a system that does not work for women as those agencies prepare to return to in-office work. And according to Arias, a work style shift is needed to make sure there is inclusivity for all Federal employees, especially women.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.