IDEAS: ‘Women have been hit twofold’ in Dayton and beyond

The Dayton Daily News Community Conversation: Women Persevering Through the Pandemic dug into the effects of COVID-19 on women in our region. The live, virtual

The latest Dayton Daily News Community Conversation tackled the issue of how women persevered during the pandemic and how Covid affected them and the careers. They discussed the stresses at work and home, advice for re-entering the workforce, and coping strategies.

How did the pandemic impact women in your organization over the past year?

Barbara Johnson, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Premier Health:
Barbara Johnson, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Premier Health:

Barbara Johnson Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Premier Health: There was one anecdote from one of our female nurses: The pandemic required a constant need. It was just go, go, go, go, go. Then you try to go home, and you walk into your own family, and your kids need you and your spouse needs you. And there were moments when you said, ‘I need somebody.’ I just need a minute, and there weren’t many minutes for anybody to gather during this pandemic. The nature of the pandemic for a lot of the caregivers at the bedside required for them to stand in for families because of the pandemic, and how quickly it spread. We could not run the risk of exposing family members who could expose others in their family (or) in the community, so these providers had to step in and hold hands and provide support and nurturing during very difficult times.

What were the key challenges you faced when you were balancing home and professional life? How did you overcome them?

Erin Rhinehart, Co-Managing Partner at Faruki PLL
Erin Rhinehart, Co-Managing Partner at Faruki PLL

Erin Rhinehart, Co-Managing Partner at Faruki PLL: We really tried to (pay) real close attention to morale and (make) an effort to check in with folks. If you’re home by yourself and you’re working, it gets very lonely. If you’re not talking to anybody, and you’re not at a point in your career where you’re bringing in your own work, keeping up those relationships and get the feedback you need required a lot of constant attention and vigilance from everyone at all levels.

What about the women you serve? How have they been affected over the past year?

Shannon Isom, President & CEO of the YWCA Dayton.
Shannon Isom, President & CEO of the YWCA Dayton.

Shannon Isom, President, and CEO, YWCA Dayton: We saw a 1,400 percent increase of women, not necessarily calling our Hotline but those women who when they call the hotline, they need (help) right now.

Women have dropped out of the workforce in huge numbers during Covid. What can she do to minimize damage to her career when she is ready to re-enter the workforce?

Shannon Jones, Warren County Commissioner and former state lawmaker.
Shannon Jones, Warren County Commissioner and former state lawmaker.

Shannon Jones, Warren County Commissioner, and former state lawmaker: Women have been hit twofold. On one hand, they are disproportionately represented in jobs that are caregiving service, hospitality, (and) disproportionately impacted by the pandemic (because) of the mandatory closures. They’re also disproportionately expected to take on all the caregiving roles, whether it’s for children or aging parents. That is why there is this growing disparity now between who is leaving the workforce, even those men who were forced out of their jobs because of mandatory closures. They’ve mostly returned to the workforce, and women mostly have not.

Samantha Elder, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Communication at Montgomery County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services
Samantha Elder, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Communication at Montgomery County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services

Samantha Elder, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Communication for Montgomery County Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services: If you are a woman who has left the workforce in 2020 or even 2021 due to COVID or the impact that it’s had on your life; and you’re interviewing for a new position with an organization, and that organization does not understand why you had to leave the workforce or looks down upon it or feels any particular way about it; I would argue that’s a sign of an organization that is not a good cultural fit, because they don’t recognize the importance of women in the workforce. So I think women also need to be aware of that.

What about the toll on women’s physical health over the past year? Could you talk about what you’ve seen in your practice?

Dr. Hind Moussa, physician in obstetrics and gynecology with Kettering Health Network and associate professor at University of Cincinnati.
Dr. Hind Moussa, physician in obstetrics and gynecology with Kettering Health Network and associate professor at University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Hind Moussa, physician in obstetrics and gynecology with Kettering Health Network and associate professor at the University of Cincinnati.

During COVID, especially with the onset of the pandemic where there were a lot of uncertainties and a lot of fear. Patients were afraid to come into hospitals or appointments because they don’t want to get infected, don’t want to take the infection back to their homes and families, and have loved ones who are maybe at higher risk of getting severe COVID. Also, the guidelines were not very clear at the start of the pandemic. Pregnant women were not recognized as at severe risk of developing COVID. But then later they realize pregnant women will be further hospitalized might need more ICU stays or intubation. And that also can impact the baby as that’s basically our innocent bystanders.

What kind of a toll has stress taken on women?

Dr. Hind Moussa: Huge. I think the whole juggling between work between also baby care of kids at home. We know that the schools had to shut down for a while, we know that daycare facilities had to shut down. There was a nanny shortage. I was trying to find a nanny for my baby when I wanted to come back to work and I couldn’t find one. And a couple of people I’ve interviewed, they did not have the same standards of trying to protect themselves, so I don’t feel comfortable with them being in my home or to sending my baby to their home. So, I think that all adds to the stress that everyone was going through. So, women went through a lot of stress and are still going through a lot of stress from the pandemic.

How have you been able to direct people to the resources they need?

Samantha Elder: It’s important to note that 35% of these women with these diagnoses, were also African American women because this continues to show the disparities that we see across the entire healthcare system. All of the responsibilities as we talked about still fall disproportionately on women, even when it comes to acting as a caregiver, caring for children, and making sure that they are getting educated during this time. First, I would highly encourage that we openly ask, just as we should do if we were worried about a loved one harming his or herself. Just ask, how are you doing? Are you okay? These are such simple statements, but they work.

Something else that’s not just for women, but it’s embedding mental health in your workplace culture or home life, and by that, I mean encouraging those things like walks. Schedule time that is blocked off on the calendar, those kinds of things that are clinically proven ways to decrease stress and anxiety.

Lastly, I would encourage more self-compassion, which I know is easier said than done. But women have to prioritize what is urgent, and what can be put on the backburner. Practicing compassionate detachment when confronted with tasks or issues that bring up feelings such as frustration to surface is a good way to ensure that we are properly coping with these emotions.

Is there something that needs to change with federal or state policies to help make things better for women to manage?

Shannon Jones, Warren County Commissioner: I believe that the state and federal government could prioritize high-quality early childhood, childcare, as a public good. In doing so, it satisfies two things. It allows women and families to be able to get back into the workforce and do so knowing that their children are being taken care of and receiving nurturing responsive support. But it’s also, you know, we talk about how women have been internalizing stress. The children that they’re caring for are internalizing the trauma and the stress. And so it helps them. The largest group of children that are entering our system are children under the age of three. Children under the age of three are not bad. They did nothing to put themselves in these circumstances, but they are dealing with the lifelong trauma of that experience. We have to create these opportunities for children and families to help them recover. It’s good for taxpayers. We save money in the long run. The evidence for that is really clear, too, so I think a lot of public policy and thought leadership and investment need to be focused on in this area.

Over the past year, what were some of the ways in which you did take a moment for yourself, or helped you maintain your perspective during the past year?

Barbara Johnson: Give yourself permission to just shut down for a second, because that was the only thing I knew I could manage in the moment of the pandemic. I couldn’t manage my time. I had to manage my energy. I got out with my Fitbit and tried to make sure I got my 10,000 steps every day. I started to be very conscious about breathing. The benefits of breathing really came forward for me and then taking some time to connect with my family when I could. You had to schedule some time away because in this age of digitization there is no downtime. Really, just trying to find a minute. You have to.

Shannon Isom: I downloaded the calm app. I started doing journaling but more around centering and prayer and making sure that I’m just being mindful of how to be faithful during times that feel heavy. And I’m around a lot of trauma. And I think I found some joy in, is always making sure that I’m listening and leaning into employees and what they need, especially those that on the front line.

Erin Rhinehart: We really got into takeout and having the food at our house and trying different things. My husband and I had some happy hours that were just sitting at the kitchen table. I mean, just connecting with your family and trying to recreate those moments in your house and, and trying to find a way to support the local businesses around here because I really want them here when everything reopens. We are so fortunate in Dayton to have just a wonderful wealth of small businesses and restaurants. We made the best of it.

Note: This transcript was edited for brevity.

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