Founders Blog: The 5th Wave
By Heather Wentler
Life may be starting to feel like it did in 2019; we’re able to gather with others, shop and play more in our communities, and give each other hugs again. We’re also backlashing against some of the practices that were put in place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of “I don’t want to meet in video conferencing ever again” comments I hear or “When is Doyenne hosting in-person events?” from various parties are high counts. Before we can really begin to have a “new normal” or post-pandemic reality settle into place I believe there’s a 5th phase of the pandemic we are experiencing that needs to be considered and given due respect.
1. Comfort level
Everyone has a different level of comfort as we co-existing in physical spaces again. And everyone’s level of comfort should be respected and validated. I’ll use myself as an example, during the majority of 2020 I didn’t really go out in public. Even while taking walks in our neighborhood my husband and I wore our masks and crossed the street when passing neighbors. We had a very small pandemic circle and if we did have an outside gathering we still debated if we should gather or not in case we might accidentally contract or spread the virus. We grocery and personal shopped online more than ever before, and would let packages sit for 3 days before opening and wipe down groceries before they went in the fridge & freezer. We held all our family holiday celebrations via Zoom and navigated teaching them how to play Jackbox games (we can laugh at it now). While many felt we were the outlier as to how serious and extreme we did things, I honestly didn’t care because I continued to think I cannot get sick because of Doyenne and my husband thought the same because of his venture. As we all start to reopen in various ways and have in-person experiences I’m constantly thinking about How comfortable am I with this? Should I wear my mask? Am I going to be criticized for wearing my mask? Am I going to be criticized for not wearing a mask? Am I potentially putting vulnerable populations at risk? I know I’m not the only person thinking these things, and remembering that helps me know I’m not alone, and using my network to learn from their experiences makes me feel ok with the decisions I make for Doyenne.
As a business owner, you have to weigh all of your personal comfort levels as well as trying to continue to keep your venture open while vaccinations, COVID variants, and what someone else is doing are voices swirling around you every day. I’ve said this before and will continue to say it, YOU know your venture better than anyone else. The decisions you make today are the best decisions you can make given the information you have at this time.
There is no perfectly correct or absolutely wrong way as to where someone’s comfort level should be while we move through the 5th phase. As much as possible we need to continue to be willing to meet people’s needs and boundaries where they’re at. I encourage you to think about how to meet the needs of your team members as you reopen your office/spaces, be transparent around new policies, expectations, and how you’re accepting feedback while transitioning. Transition doesn’t only mean the first time something happens. How are you going to handle situations after the honeymoon period of everyone being together wears off - if people feel more comfortable not coming in anymore due to risk/tolerance levels or for personal requirements, do hybrid work models work for your venture, and how do your employee HR and customer/client policies need to adapt? You must also set the boundaries and hold everyone to them. And, how have you prepared for the potential of another wave of COVID lockdown or positive cases surge due to variants as we all are still learning about the vaccinations and their effectiveness?
There’s no easy way around it. It all feels like an extra layer of daily work, which it is, so setting hard boundaries and then being able to lax them may be an easier route than being too lax and having to put more restrictions/boundaries in place.
2. Traumatic Responses
I’m not a licensed therapist nor do I have any formal training in this area but I have been through a few other big traumatic situations pre-pandemic in my personal and professional lives and have worked with licensed professionals to support me through talk therapy and medication (I have openly discussed my depression before). I also have been an ear to bend for many entrepreneurs over the past 10 years as someone to listen and help put what feels like jumbled thoughts and feelings into actionable processes - or support identifying when it’s time for professional support. When your body goes through these mass changes, the best thing you can do for yourself is take time to process - either on your own, with an individual you feel safe and comfortable with, or with a professional.
We have all, as a collective world population, been through mass trauma over the past year, and are still experiencing it daily. If you think about it, our lives were completely flipped upside down in the span of less than a month, and then continued to flip, twist, pivot, and adapt sometimes daily for a full year. Our bodies have been in a state similar to fight or flight constantly, with adrenaline and other hormones coursing through us to try and just maintain. Your body needs time to recover physically and emotionally to process everything - which means you may go through additional changes and adaptations over the next few weeks or months.
According to a survey by the US Census Bureau conducted in December 2020, more than 42% of participants reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, an increase from 11% the previous year1 . This upward trend is expected to continue throughout 2021 and not decrease until a full “new normal” sets in. The percentage is also higher for women than men.
We know women have been impacted more than our male counterparts during the past year. The monthly data around the number of women leaving the workforce has skyrocketed, undoing our nearly 50/50 workforce percentages and set us back to mid-1980’s percentages. In September 2020, 880,000 women withdrew from the workforce. Seven months later, in April 2021, 165,000 women withdrew from the labor force - meaning they’re not employed or searching for jobs. What happened in both these months? School. Either transitions of at-home learning, physically at school, or blended (at-home + in-person) school occurred and women had to figure out how to make this happen as we’re still seen as the primary caretakers. The estimate right now shows that women's unemployment rates trend 1.9 percentage points above men's unemployment rates and that it will take until 2024 for women to recover from pre-pandemic job levels, TWO YEARS longer than our male counterparts. Our GDP (gross domestic product) is also expected to lose over $1 TRILLION over the next 5 years due to women not being in the workforce.
I wish I could grant everyone a minimum of 4 weeks of paid vacation to actually take time for themselves and those they care for most without the distraction of work to be able to work through things. The Great Resignation is not only impacting those who work for employers, many entrepreneurs are burning out and considering closing or selling their ventures. I know it goes against the trend of more people starting ventures after an economic downturn (which we are trending towards), but I really believe we all just need a good dose of “me time” first to be better entrepreneurs, team members, and community members. If you can take the time away from external responsibilities, please do so and don’t feel guilty for putting yourself first.
Many topics and issues around gender identity, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic disparities have become even more everyday topics and have all of us asking ourselves and each other more so than in the past, “How am I listening and learning from those who don’t have the same lived experience as me?”.
Relations and portrayals between people who don’t look like, sound like or live like each other has never been what we should consider as acceptable. When people think of change as losing their “power” instead of thinking about how your advantages can lift up others we continue to create more disparities. Time after time research continues to prove diversity and inclusion of voices and lived experiences as part of decision-makers means we all benefit. Doyenne has very much expressed these needs when it comes to gender inclusion since our inception - it’s literally why we started, we did not see or hear from female representation in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and knew it was impacting the community’s economic prosperity.
Doyenne too has room for growth and continued learning. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but we are committed to doing the work and have been making changes and listening to others as to where we've fallen short over the years.
We all have room for growth and acceptance. Part of this is also acknowledging and taking responsibility for missteps and mistreatment that you have caused. As someone I respect has told me various times, “The work we’re all doing to make change happen is important. It’s hard, messy, and at times unknown as to how to proceed. Sometimes we screw up and realize we could have done better or more, but it’s how you react, accept responsibility, and change in the future is what people are watching and looking for”.
The 5th phase shouldn’t be feared or diminished. It needs to happen. While it’s uncomfortable because of the unknown and challenges us to grow, we will all be better because of it happening. The important part is to remember that you are not alone and we are all going through a similar experience in various ways at the same time. Having empathy and compassion will set us up for continued and new success.