As I write this, women are leaving the U.S. corporate workforce — either by necessity or as a result of layoffs. But a bright spot in these bleak times is that many are successfully starting their own ventures or taking a chance on small startups.
According to McKinsey & Company’s sixth annual Women in the Workplace study, the pandemic has been particularly brutal on women who work full-time jobs. Moms in particular have been forced to pick up a host of new duties: completing household labor, caring for children and family members, and acting as teachers when there isn’t support from childcare providers or schools.
The report, released in September, found that women — especially women of color — are more likely to be laid off or furloughed during Covid-19 than their male counterparts, stalling their careers. Meanwhile, being stuck at home has only worsened attempts to maintain a work-life balance. Burnout, depression and anxiety are rising as women do everything possible to remain “on” with employers.
Countless thousands are silently fighting to hang on and not lose control. Careers, health, families, finances and sanity are all on the line as the pandemic continues surging throughout the world.
The bandwidth for juggling it all, even as we inch closer to a vaccine, has reached its limit. One in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workplace because of Covid-19. Exactly how many women make up that statistic? According to NPR, 865,000 women quit their jobs in the month of September, four times more than men.
I wanted to see what the lives of some of these women look like now — and found four examples of women who are successfully transitioning to entrepreneurship in the face of this unprecedented event. Here are their stories.
“I took a leap of faith and it’s working.”
For over 22 years, Kelly Kaufman has built a career she loves in public relations. Kaufman is also a mother of two children. Her children are ages 7 and 9, and one child has learning disabilities and ADHD. Shortly after Covid-19 hit, her children began e-learning at home.
Kaufman struggled to balance her full-time career in addition to acting as a teacher to two small children. Once it was announced that the fall school year would be 100% online, she realized she had to make a change.
“I’m a perfectionist,” Kaufman says. “I knew that either my work or parenting was going to suffer, and it wasn’t fair to anyone.”
Kaufman made the decision to quit her full-time PR agency job after nearly 10 years of employment. Making this decision meant doing more than leaving behind her beloved job. It also meant giving up the benefits she received, which included 100% paid insurance and ESOP earnings.
Kaufman started her own agency, K Squared Group. Over the last few months, she has been hard at work creating her own brand and running a small agency. She continues to consult with her previous agency, as well. Running her own agency is hard work, but Kaufman has an increased amount of flexibility to be with her children (both of which are now in a hybrid e-learning format at school). Now, she can focus on her work and parenting without making any sacrifices.
“Running my own agency gives me the challenges I thrive on and allows me to do what I love,” Kaufman says. “I took a leap of faith. While there is still so much unknown ahead, for now, it’s working.”
“Covid-19 was the catalyst that led me to my passion.”
Salwa Khan is a woman with big dreams. She always dreamt of being a power suit woman and climbing the corporate ladder. These dreams did come true, with Khan’s career background including roles in corporate finance at a fashion brand, public accounting as a CPA, and investment banking. Most recently, Khan was a brand strategist for a major retail company.
Khan dreamt of one day becoming an entrepreneur, passionate about the idea of working for a female founder and other executive women. Khan, who is 30, is also a mother to two children: a 4-year-old daughter and an infant.
She had no way of knowing how the Covid-19 pandemic would lead her towards this entrepreneurial destiny.
In March 2020, Khan was furloughed from her job. Khan was 8 months pregnant and furloughed a month prior to her maternity leave. The company guaranteed her return to work post maternity leave and honored her paid maternity leave. It was a blessing in disguise for Khan, who felt physically and mentally overwhelmed being pregnant during a pandemic, balancing the needs of her daughter, and committing to work and the family’s household.
“No one put the pressure on me,” Khan says. “In fact, my husband is incredibly supportive. It was just my internal guilt that crept up and got the better of me.”
After maternity leave, and furlough, were over, Khan decided not to return to work. Instead, she stayed home with her newborn and started a business. Khan is now the founder and CEO of Cubbiekit, a parenting brand that delivers essential baby basics to busy parents.
“Covid-19 was the catalyst that led me to my passion,” Khan says. While there is a lot of hustle involved in running a startup business, Khan loves that she has control of her own schedule. She works when her kids are sleeping in the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning. “I work more, but I feel more balanced.”
“Covid-19 changed my views on what is important in a job and company culture.”
Pre-pandemic, Delaney Clark graduated from college in May 2019. Her first job was a dream gig come true: an internship with the Seattle Seahawks.
Clark absolutely loved the internship. The position gave her great insight into the world of sports and its focus on the front office and game days. Clark fully intended for the rest of her career to continue in sports, but the coronavirus pandemic hit the live sports world hard. Clark’s position ended in January 2020 and she was unemployed until the start of September.
Now, Clark works as a part-time employee for a startup app in Seattle, Washington, called Frenzy. While her new role is sports-adjacent, since Frenzy acts as a real-time communications platform for any type of event and its audience, she never thought she would work for a startup.
So far, she’s loving the pivot. Clark now makes her own hours, works from home, and reports to a small team that has great understanding for the WFH needs of their employees.
“I feel valued and I highly value my team,” Clark says. “Covid has changed my views on what is important in a job and company culture.”
“Covid-19 has given me a rare gift: time.”
Pre-pandemic, Amna Ahmad had been a lawyer for five years. She had been thinking of leaving the profession for a long time. However, Ahmad admits she never really tried to pursue her passions which were in the mental health and psychology fields.
“I thought it was a ridiculous idea to leave my lucrative career,” Ahmad says. “It was just a pipe dream.”
Everything changed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Ahmad describes the pandemic as turning her world “upside down.” The aforementioned statistics revealed in McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace study also hit home with her.
“I thought to myself, ‘How did they know?’ I knew it was time to rethink my priorities,” Ahmad says.
Ahmad, who is currently working from home, has been using this unprecedented time to explore her interests on the side. Working from the comfort of home has given her more time and energy. Now, she has the chance to enroll in online courses and seminars. She has started an advice blog called Ask Amna, where she is on a mission to raise mental health awareness especially in the Muslim community. Ahmad, who is starting a counselling course on the basics of counselling therapy, is even thinking about enrolling back in school and retraining.
None of this change, as unusual and unprecedented as it may be, would have been possible without the time afforded by Covid-19.
“Covid-19 has given me a rare gift in time,” Ahmad says. “Because of Covid-19, and the counseling course, I have realized that counseling is my dream job. It has the flexibility and work-life balance I need and is something I am passionate about. Covid-19 has taught me that I prefer purusing my passions and having a good work-life balance over a high salary. I would never have considered such a move and start another career from scratch, but everything feels possible now.”
Heather Taylor is the head writer for PopIcon, Advertising Week’s blog dedicated to brand mascots. She been published on HelloGiggles, Brit + Co, Joy, Business Insider, and more online outlets. Find her on Twitter @howveryheather.