Illustration of a group of women
By Michelle Michael Mar 20 2021 Blog

Roundtable: How Can Employers Better Support Women at Work?

This is the first in a 12-part series of blog posts that focus on Centro’s corporate guiding principles, and how those values show up in the workplace and the lives of our people.

One of Centro’s corporate principles, Support Each Other, takes on an especially important meaning during Women’s History Month and at the tail end of a global pandemic that has disproportionally impacted women, especially women of color.

The circumstances under which women are working and living have changed drastically over the last year. McKinsey calculates that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis than men’s jobs, and recent projections estimate that employment for women may not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024—two full years after the projected recovery for men.

One reason for the disparity is the burden of unpaid care—shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking care of children or elders in the household—which is disproportionately carried by women. Not surprisingly, in September, when many U.S. schools resumed, 80% of the 1.1 million people who exited the workforce were women.

The COVID-19 pandemic added to what was an already unequal baseline at work. That baseline for many women can include contending with imposter syndrome, shouldering a larger amount of labor at home, dealing with sexual harassment, and struggling against a promotion and pay gap (to name just a few).

The impact to women of color is often multiplied. For example, the pay gap for Black women is $0.63 for every $1.00 white men earn, while white women earn $0.79.

So how can our workplaces, which now more than ever blur the lines between work and home and professional and personal– support women? To help answer that question, I asked four successful women at Centro about the different ways that they’ve experienced support in their careers and what workplaces can be doing better.

Ashley Press, Sr. Account Lead; Jennica Pui, Talent Operations Analyst; Jenny Jayne, Manager of UX Research; and Vitoria Cabrera, VP, Client and Media Services discuss below.

It’s no secret that many women feel pressure to “lean in,” to balance their work and home life seamlessly, and to “have it all”–all of which are harmful myths. What has been a challenge for you as you’ve navigated this mythical balance of your personal life and career?

Ashley Press: The biggest challenge has been juggling the unknowns of being a first-time mom with an 8-month-old and the pressure to continually grow and succeed in my sales role. I’ve had to readjust my day-to-day to ensure that I can maximize my time and dedication toward work and home life.

It’s not always going to be an equal division of labor, and this can be difficult to navigate as a new working parent. There’s a constant pressure to do well in all areas, and I’m learning to not be so hard on myself. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and I’m constantly reminding myself to take a step back and enjoy everything that’s happening.

Jenny Jayne: As a mother of two, I can tell you that the pressure to produce as though parenthood doesn’t exist is very real. I was once advised to push past my morning sickness to “set an example” about working mothers for all my younger female colleagues. Here’s what I’d like to say to them: Don’t let anyone make you think that you have to sacrifice yourself or your family for work. You don’t.

Jennica Pui: I’ve found it’s been more difficult to disconnect while working from home. There isn’t anything particularly exciting or interesting going on, so it feels like continuing to work is the most effective use of time. Especially when there are projects with massive undertakings or tight deadlines, it feels natural to just keep going. It’s something that I really want to focus on this year.

Vitoria Cabrera: One of the biggest challenges for me is keeping up the appearance that I have it all together on both sides of the coin. I mostly do have it together, but not all 24 hours of the day or 365 days of the year! Learning to be OK with some cross-pollination (we are working from home, after all!) has been a stretch for me this past year, as was the realization that it is perfectly OK to slow down.

How has Centro supported you in your professional career or personal life as you’ve navigated your career?

AP: I started at Centro as an intern back in 2010. Since then I’ve taken on many roles on different teams. Having the opportunity to gain this cross-team experience has enabled me to be successful in my current role as a Senior Account Lead. This wouldn’t have been possible without the internal support I’ve received. Many times, employees have to hop from company to company to gain this type of experience, but Centro continues to evolve its tech and services alongside all the changes that are happening in the industry.

JJ: I’ve been impressed with how flexible Centro has been regarding my familial duties, especially during the pandemic. I have always felt like I have the space to do what I need to do AND take care of myself–not one or the other.

JP: I’ve found that my team takes a positive stance in learning from mistakes, and it gives me the opportunity and autonomy to figure out what works best for a given situation. My ability to adapt is something I think I’ve truly been able to harvest and nurture at Centro.

VC: Professionally, Centro has been pretty pivotal in my career. I’ve learned about different corners of the internet I hadn’t yet been exposed to, there are extensive webinars & POVs to keep us and the industry up-to-date, the T&D team provides trainings that are key to my role, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to use my voice, and overall, I’ve been shown what true transparency looks like from all levels of the org.

It’s hard to find all of this in one place and I am better for it! Personally, I find that Centro takes great care of its people, from urging us to practice mindfulness, to teaching us all how to be inclusive and supportive conscious leaders–I’ve grown so much as a person in the last year.

A lot of women, especially women at the beginning of their careers, feel pressure to have it all figured out or follow some imagined straight-and-narrow career path. How has your career path surprised you? Have you taken any left turns?

AP: I never thought I’d be such a tenured employee at Centro. Despite leaving the company for a short time to take on a new opportunity, I returned (boomeranged, if you will) and have now been with Centro over a decade. Not only have I been with the company for many years, but I’ve also taken on many roles, which has allowed me to continually grow in my professional career. 

JJ: When I was in college, I wanted to be an international lawyer. I had no idea what that was, but I just wanted to travel the world and save people. When the recession hit in 2008, I struck gold by finding HCI/d (Human-Computer Interaction Design). I knew immediately that it was the path for me and that it was the best way I could use my skills to help people.

JP: I originally went to post-secondary for accounting, thinking that my appreciation for math would come in handy, and that it would be a career that my parents would be supportive of. I quickly found that public accounting wasn’t an industry I was interested in or excited about.

Trying to start a career in HR proved difficult. A lot of entry-level roles in Toronto require you to have experience in HR, and with a background in accounting, it didn’t quite line up. I ended up taking a series of administrative roles that allowed me to wear many hats, and was able to show my potential to my previous employers and pivot to HR.

VC: My career in digital was an accident! I’ve learned over the years that building equity in yourself yields the greatest results–it’s important to occasionally “take the project” or say yes quicker.

I studied radio production in college and then went on to work at a radio station as a Sales Assistant. The radio station evolved its offerings to include digital advertising, and I was chosen to be an ad trafficker. I could have said no, but instead I embraced the challenge. And now many years later, I have a career I am proud of, that all started because I was right where I was supposed to be to accept that challenge.

Women represent 54% of Centro’s employees and 48% of leadership roles, so there are a lot of role models here! Who is another woman who has inspired you or is a mentor or role model? How has she opened doors for you?

AP: When I returned to work from my maternity leave, I was overwhelmed by the amount of outreach and support I received from other woman in the company. I received advice, resources and words of encouragement from so many individuals, which made it so much easier for me to transition back to work and feel empowered. All the moms that reached out proved how amazing women are and how we are able to manage so much and still be successful in our careers.

JJ: Aubrey Lehrmann is someone here at Centro who truly inspires me. She’s not only smart and sharp as a tack, she’s open-minded and empathetic, with an ability to bring focus that never ceases to amaze me.

JP: Kati Fratesi, my previous manager, made note of the skills that I had and would recommend me on projects that were outside of my usual responsibilities so that I could advance my knowledge and continue developing.

VC: What excited me most about joining Centro was the amount of women in leadership in all levels. It is hard to choose one Centro woman, but if I had to choose one, I’d nominate Kaela Green for her role in creating the first Black ERG group–Black Excellence.

BE came about at a pivotal time at this company and in this country and creates a safe place for peeps and allies with Black identities. Having this space to share experiences and general thoughts has been key for me spiritually, and is a step in the right direction for Centro to further build out its DEI initiatives, therefore opening doors for me and others. Role models come in all forms–thank you, Kaela!

So much has changed over the last year, from shifting to virtual work, to dealing with added caregiving responsibilities. As the future of the workplace changes, what do you think the corporate world can do to better support women?

AP: Advance gender equality by ensuring the same standards are being applied when women are being evaluated for title or salary promotions. It’s also important that women are visible in leadership positions and encourage female empowerment across the company.

As a new parent, I would also have to say providing more flexible work environments for employees. By doing so, current parents will be able to better manage their work-life balance, and individuals planning for a family won’t feel discouraged. Additionally, raising a child still falls disproportionately on women, so companies should provide equal paternity care to allow each parent to equally contribute and transition easier back into work.

JJ: If the corporate world wants to help women, it needs to focus on men. I have found that much of what pushes women away from the workforce is the overwhelming pressure to cave to the traditionally masculine way of thinking about work and leadership. Women and feminism have so much to offer to help make the workplace more inclusive to women, and it requires men to make room for that.

JP: There are a number of organizations whose sole purpose is working towards empowering women, and I would love to see corporations collaborating with them to identify and implement mentorship or leadership programs that are scalable.

VC: The corporate world could: hire women, take women seriously, listen to and believe women’s stories, bring women to the table, promote women, pay women what they are worth and then some, and provide paid parental leave that is equivalent to Canada and Europe. Caregiving is not a woman-only experience, so to aid in that overall, the corporate world could be more flexible on a more permanent basis and give people the opportunity to be with their families in a meaningful way when needed.