10 Successful Women in STEM & Tech Share How They Are Balancing Life and Work During Covid-19


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The pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling and sheltering in place. Authority Magazine recently interviewed scores of women in STEM who are juggling this extreme balance. Among other things, they shared their biggest family- and work-related challenges, and how they are dealing with them.

Here are 10 highlights of these interviews.

Heena Purohit, IBM Watson

Heena Purohit, IBM Watson

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Authority Magazine

What are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

The pandemic has made all of us rethink various aspects of our lives. As a millennial living continents away from my “high-risk” baby boomer parents, my biggest family-related challenges were pertaining to the health and safety of my loved ones.

While I’ve been closely tracking the pandemic outbreak in my city and taking necessary precautions, my parents started off taking the situation very lightly. My biggest challenge was making them adjust their attitudes toward the situation.

I wanted my parents to be alert while not getting scared or paranoid. I would check in on them regularly and tried to stay involved in their lives, constantly reminding them to be careful. I would share all the preventative measures I was taking to try and set an example and encourage them to do the same. For them, this meant not attending any social gatherings, including volunteering activities and avoiding unnecessary contact with people or errands.

I also sent them videos of what was happening in other parts of the world, such as Italy, despite quarantine measures. This helped them understand what they’ll need to be prepared, including stocking up on food, supplies and medicines. I also helped them set up online grocery ordering, preventing them from going in-store, trying to use technology wherever possible.

While I understand these moves upset their daily routine, what I found most effective in getting them to listen to me was appealing to their parental instincts and just revealing that I was scared for their health and well-being. This way, they tried to listen to me wherever possible to support me and keep me from being anxious and fearful.

What are the biggest -related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

Most technology firms were ahead of the curve in asking employees to work from home. While this helped make sure the employees were (relatively) safer, we all had to reset our workplaces.

While this move did not change our day-to-day work, it required us to design our own rituals for working from home effectively. Some of my biggest work challenges have been around this transition to working from home for such an extended period.

I spent the first few weeks working much longer days, and as someone living alone, I was struggling with social isolation. I had to hit the reset button and introspect on how I spent my time at work and outside work to identify aspects that were important to me. I then tried to be intentional about designing a ritual around it.

I missed the sense of community and culture we feel in the office. To combat this, I tried to encourage team members to use video wherever possible to replicate the in-person experiences. We’ve now also created a virtual office culture through events such as happy hours (kids and pets welcome), and coffee chats to discuss semi-formal topics to replicate office experiences. We also have a lot more group chats on Slack, where we not only discuss work but also have competitions for the best memes and giphys. Things like these help us stay connected as a team.

If you’re leading a team that’s working remote for the first time, it is also very helpful to set ground rules such as turning off phones, no multitasking or emails, etc. One of the biggest reasons I was having longer days was because of more meetings, so I’ve started to decline invitations if items can be discussed over email. I had to be mindful of where I was spending my time and try to optimize it.

On the personal front, I’ve allocated a target start and end time for work and dress up and prepare for work the way I would if I were going to the office. This helps shift my mind to “work mode.” I also try to make time for the activities important to me, such as working out, reading, listening to music, etc. With the blurring lines between work and personal time, I also now have “offline” hours where I resist any temptation to check email or IM, unless I receive a call or text regarding something urgent.

Kelly Mayes, Roblox

Kelly Mayes, Roblox

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Authority Magazine

What are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

Being a woman in STEM is a challenge in itself. There aren’t enough role models. There are style differences that can be misinterpreted. It’s easy to be underestimated. Being a woman in STEM with children at a high-growth company is the next-level challenge. Add the global pandemic into the mix with months of working from home and simultaneously caring for the kids full-time, and this turns into an extraordinary resilience test of a lifetime.

My kids are 3 and 5 years old, and they need a lot of care and attention, practically all the time. I literally had to present at a virtual all-hands team meeting with my 3-year-old on my lap a few days ago. In addition, my husband is in the Army Reserve Medical Corps, so it’s possible he could get deployed any day. I am not yet sure what to do if this happens since he does a great amount of right now to support our household and spends a lot of time with the kids.

Then there’s also worrying. Not just about my husband being deployed, but also about my kids and their safety. I worry about them getting anxious and tired of this situation. I also worry about my elderly parents, who live in other states that have lots of cases with no family support nearby. Thankfully, so far, they have all remained healthy.

On the bright side, I know I’m not alone in feeling this way  —  we have very open conversations about our employees’ mental well-being in our all-hands meetings where our senior executives share similar worries and challenges, and we discuss resources available to employees if they need help.

My husband and I worked out an “on-call” schedule for kids, and now I have blocked chunks of time on my calendar as “kid time.” I still take meetings during those hours, but I let people know that my kids will be there. It’s actually fun to include kids in 1–1 meetings, as it often helps build relationships with co-workers in a way I don’t usually get to do. My kids also love meeting my work friends.

My older son is in a Montessori school where they call all learning activities ‘work.’ Both of my kids love imitating my work by making their own slides, typing numbers or spelling names of people we know.

What are the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

Scaling and leading a team at a high-growth company is hard under any circumstances, but without in-person conversations it is more so. It is a tough thing to make sure each member of my team is happy and motivated while we are all working remotely. We also continue hiring and bringing new people on board, and we need to find ways to help them feel connected and build new relationships to succeed in their work.

For example, right before this started, my team and a couple of related teams started re-aligning around a bolder long-term vision, and it has meant that people’s roles and scope of work are changing, which can create uncertainty. This is a natural part of how high-growth companies scale, but not being able to have regular in-person conversations around that requires lots of adjustments and time. While I’m doubling down on my family time, I feel the need to double down on work and attention I give to my team as well.

I’m working through this by becoming more vulnerable and straightforward with people, including co-workers and my husband. Whereas before I might have had time for a series of conversations and emails, now I take some time to journal my thoughts so I have the right words to very quickly cut to the point, but in a compassionate way. While it may feel like it’s a risk in certain situations, it’s helped me become more efficient. I’m also encouraging my team to do the same and share their concerns and thoughts very directly. Including sharing openly when they need some time to take care of themselves, their families, or perhaps just to go outside and take a walk. Work in STEM can be very demanding, and it’s extremely important to prioritize health and mental well-being.

Priya Bajoria, Publicis Sapient

Priya Bajoria, Publicis Sapient

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Authority Magazine

What are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

My in-laws, who are seniors with pre-existing medical conditions, are at home with us. We have to be extra careful to avoid leaving the house at all, even for groceries. It has been incredibly challenging to secure a delivery window for groceries ordered online. In the bigger scheme of things, this is just a small inconvenience, and we are lucky that all of us are home together and have stayed healthy so far.

Everyone I speak to has their favorite websites and associated hacks to get groceries delivered. In my case, I have had to be up at odd hours at night and early mornings to somehow secure a delivery slot. In some cases, even if I found a slot, by the time I got the shopping cart ready, I had lost the slot. I can think of so many ways the whole online digital experience user journey can be simplified. But above all, I remain grateful to all essential workers, who are still doing their jobs as shoppers, delivery personnel and of course, medical workers on the front line, thanks to whom we can continue to lead our lives at home, comfortably despite the crisis.

What are the biggest -related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

Thanks to our global infrastructure teams and the telecom networks, we have had a very smooth transition to remote working at scale, and 98% of our workforce is productive in this new normal. Ensuring the health and safety of our employees and staying close to our teams and clients, although the physical distance has been critical areas of focus in these first few weeks of the lockdown.

We have increased the usage of collaboration and meeting tools like Microsoft Teams and are encouraging each other to join on video vs. just on the phone. The Publicis Groupe and Publicis Sapient leadership have also been incredibly proactive and transparent in their communications. To stay connected with each other, outside of regular work interactions, we are also doing virtual coffee breaks/ happy hours and even a trivia night that has been scheduled for next week.

Jennifer Stancil, The Hello Studios

Jennifer Stancil, The Hello Studios

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Authority Magazine

What are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

I find it easy to write curriculum and have been sharing free, quality resources on my social platforms. So, I wrote a curriculum for my daughter but soon found out how my daughter’s learning style isn’t always a great complement to my open-ended, project based approaches. With a teen in the second half of her 7th-grade year, is a negotiation. But listening is essential to good negotiation, and I’ve tried to do a LOT more listening. It was an important moment in her own self-advocacy to share what she needed. It wasn’t hard to make adjustments that she advocated for, like working on a subject all day long and with focused intent, instead of over many days. It’s her having to own her schoolwork, not me.

What are the biggest -related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

Managing the unknown can derail your day. How long will we be out of school? When will museums open again, so I can be instrumental in building them back to their capacity and possibly join a new company in the fall? When can I let my child hug her friends and family and not just FaceTime them?

I believe that gratitude short-circuits many of the catabolic feelings that sap your energy to even begin to focus your mind  —  on your latest blog, helping a neighbor, moving forward a proposition. That means using apps like “3 Good Things,” listening to a favorite song or just stating, “I’m so thankful right now for….” really helps.

Noticing is such a superpower. Noticing, being aware and present in the moment, means that the smell of that newly blooming azalea isn’t lost on you, or how the sun is coming through your window makes you remember that summer vacation at the beach . . . We’re relishing our memories, too, and calling up a lot of old videos of our family, to great effect.

Sonya Pelia, Cira Apps

Sonya Pelia, Cira Apps

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Authority Magazine

What are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

The truth of the matter is that most women do two shifts. They  —  and then they come home and do the vast majority of the housework. Now they’re also helping take care of kids, and possibly adults who live with them.

Children need to be schooled online. That’s challenging. But let’s say you’re a manager with a team. Expecting people to be as productive as they were before the remote working, that’s just not realistic.

For women in leadership roles, you’re probably trying to manage junior employees who are scared for their jobs.

It’s a very challenging time. I think 6 million Americans have applied for unemployment. The fear, the uncertainty of doing your existing job…

I was talking to a colleague who said she’d never been allowed to work remotely. Her company immediately saw a 30 percent drop in productivity. You have to provide coaching and support  —  but is it realistic to expect them to get up to speed in weeks? What about employees who didn’t even have a laptop at home  —  how do you get IT setting this up?

If you’re a woman, there’s just this added layer of complexity on top.

No one was prepared for this. How do you prepare? You have to center yourself and think about the things you truly need to accomplish.

Be realistic about what you can accomplish. There’s a shifting of the mindset needed. It’s hard to center yourself, but that’s the requirement.

“What can we do to help you work?” That’s the question you need to ask the people on your team — to let them know the support is there, and establish trust with remote employees. When you check in with them, it’s not always about what’s going wrong  —  but showing them they’re trusted, in a working relationship.

What are the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

It’s the balancing act. Product deadlines. Project deadlines  —  but you’ve got to take care of the household, too.

As a manager, my aim is to take care of my people. You have to make sure they are OK. If you panic as a leader, your people will panic. Again, you’ve got to center yourself.

Dr. Sharon Jones, Dottie Rose Foundation

Dr. Sharon Jones, Dottie Rose Foundation

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Authority Magazine

What are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

We have pivoted our workshops for the spring and moved all of them to an online platform. This spring we are offering a GamerZ series, Virtual 3D Printing, and an XBox challenge. We are enhancing our online platforms and creating new and innovative content to leverage students working to create using technology versus just consuming. Our partnerships continue to grow and as we find ourselves in a new normal we are leveraging our unique genius to elevate content for online delivery.

What are the biggest -related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

The biggest challenge has been to find my rhythm with completely moving online. As much as I love and use technology to run, implement and innovate my work, the immediate change to just being online has been tough. It has required me to use my skill set in an entire new way and connect and build relationships via a screen.

To address the new challenge, I have invested time in video with mobile lighting, utilizing my screen recording software and creating inviting lunchtime learning opportunities via online platforms.

Cindra McCoy, Guide Dots

Cindra McCoy, Guide Dots

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Authority Magazine

What are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

I started Guide Dots right about the same time I conceived my second child, so Guide Dots has been growing right alongside my mama’s belly. I am now 39 weeks pregnant, ready to pop and running two businesses amid the pandemic. The balance of managing the businesses, entertaining my 2-year-old with no formal childcare and the anxiety of being hospitalized for the birth during the pandemic has certainly upset the balance of my home and .

Just as many artists delve into their artwork in times of trouble, I have found Guide Dots to be a source of focus for me. When I am feeling anxious about my own family-related challenges, I redirect that energy into things I can control. Right now, that means continuing to brainstorm ways in which my businesses can help other families ride out this storm.

What are the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

Guide Dots is still a new , so I think the biggest challenge for me is getting the word out amid the onslaught of critical news and information that’s pouring out about the pandemic. We feel like our kits and curriculum have a role to play in alleviating family stress right now, but breaking through the noise is not easy.

Social media has been a major player for us even before the pandemic, but we’ve been increasing our efforts in that arena. Additionally, we began offering free live art lessons to give people a chance to experience our value proposition in real time.

Christy Laurence of Plann

Christy Laurence of Plann

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Authority Magazine

Can you share the biggest -related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

Unfortunately, I’d say that has affected all founders in some way, regardless of gender. Pandemics don’t discriminate!

We’re all having to revisit expenses, timelines and deadlines, cash flow, and staffing projections to ensure we keep our teams together, motivated and on task at home. The pool of female founders to reach out to and ask perspectives and thoughts on how to safely get through this period of uncertainty is definitely smaller, but everyone is banding together to help, which is the beauty of the startup community.

I’m no stranger to tough times, and the resilience I’ve built up over the years is certainly helping me apply what I believe is the right perspective to get the team through this hurdle.

Keeping things a little more lighthearted, facilitating keeping the team connected, making an effort to send gifts, and make thoughtful gestures and reaching out with phone calls is helping keep the internal anxiety at bay as to not project it externally, which is what we want to happen.

Giving back to the wider startup network is equally important in these strange times; it’s tough for everyone! We’re doing our best to continue to support other startups by not churning and reaching out to others to talk about API integrations ,which has been exciting.

Andrea Williams, The CXApp

Andrea Williams, The CXApp

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Authority Magazine

What are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

I think there are some issues that are affecting all families regardless of gender. And there are some challenges that affect, or perceivably affect, women more. I think all families, moms and dads, are in a place of, What the heck do we do? What do the next 2 weeks, 2 months look like?

I am still trying to find that balance in my family. What my husband and I have been doing since we began to ‘shelter in place’ in early March, has worked really, really well for me. I was hoarding all the office time around the house. But that inevitably forced my husband to take on the brunt of all childcare. He was glad to spend time with our son, but he had to , too, and also needed to take breaks. So now we’re working on a new system that will hopefully balance the workload a bit more. Although, I will admit that while our work lives and childcare regimens are becoming a bit more defined, it’s possible that our home care has suffered a bit. But who’s looking, right!?

I think from a female perspective, for me at least, I am very nurturing and always want to be taking care of people, especially my family. So, when my family is at home and around all the time, I of course want to take care of them, all the time. I cook breakfast, make lunch, absorb quality time, make sure everyone is doing OK, respond to a strange sound or loud cry in an instant. I find myself naturally switching in and out of work mode constantly so I can be everything to everyone. And I’ve had to start telling myself I can’t be, that it’s not sustainable.

As much as I want to be a part of everything that is going on around the house, especially when I can hear bits and pieces of conversations and the ABCs, I know that in order to be productive, I have to shut the office door from time to time.

If the door is closed, or I’m vigorously tapping on my keyboard, I’m in the “ideal” zone. Kindly, do not disturb. Unless the baby is projectile vomiting (true story, I could hear splash-down on the ground behind a closed door), I immediately spring from my chair and go help out!

The last company I worked for, we had an office rule that if an engineer had their headphones on in the office, they were coding. And in software development, engineers need “ideal coding time.” This is undisturbed chunks of time where they block out external interferences in order to write “good code.” I’ve now coined this my “ideal writing” time.

Also, I’ve found that it’s important when communicating with team members through Skype, being available for meetings, and interacting with my family, I have to set aside chunks of time (1.5 hours is ideal but not always achievable).

What are the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

As a woman in tech, and any industry really, we automatically blame ourselves and criticize what we’re not able to do. Sometimes it’s self-perpetuating. Sometimes it may be others judging us.

Rather, we should be taking a more wholesome approach of congratulating ourselves and realizing everything that we are able to do. I fall victim to this from time to time.

Today, for example, I was frustrated because I didn’t get to tick a few things off my list at work. I stressed out and thought that I wasn’t putting in enough time, or that I could’ve asked my husband to watch our son for another 30 minutes right before dinner time. And I felt guilty for that. But if I stop and think, today I edited another podcast episode, had a strategic marketing meeting with my boss, worked on a case study, published a blog, spent breakfast with my son, lunch with my husband, made tacos for dinner, and jumped on a virtual hangout with my gal pals. That’s quite a bit, and I should be proud of how much I squeezed into today.

I think recognition will take us all a long way. Maybe we should all do a self-audit, like a quarterly self-review. We can call it a QSR, where we acknowledge everything we’ve accomplished! This, in fact, is a great exercise in that, so thank you!

Even simple things like talking with your friends about a recent project you worked on and having them respond genuinely will help. We fall into a trap sometimes where we assume no one will understand what we’re talking about or can’t relate because our friends and family may come from different fields and industries. But, regardless, the people we surround ourselves are interested in what we do and can sometimes provide a unique perspective and acknowledge things about what we’re able to accomplish that we’re not able to see ourselves.

Also, I think it’s important to help grow women in tech networks. I’m starting to become more active now that I’ve made it to a point in my career I am proud of and feel like I can help others. I think that the more eyes and ears we capture, the bigger our voices will be where people in our industries will be forced to acknowledge and recognize what we’re able to accomplish. Screaming kids, wage gaps and all.

Morgan Bachemin, Online Optimism

Morgan Bachemin, Online Optimism

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Authority Magazine

What are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

Although I don’t yet have children of my own, I am still a woman in STEM that has a primary family. And the biggest challenge is the mental aspect of it, honestly. I am the only person in my family who is currently employed (thankfully), and that has left a lot of responsibility on myself to figure out my own bills and schedule while also making sure that everyone else is taken care of, both financially and emotionally.

Secondarily, just making sure that I am staying healthy so that I can and provide for my family and myself has been the primary goal. This means following the guidelines set out by the CDC regarding social distancing and masks but also taking care of myself emotionally so that I don’t get burnt out with anxiety.

I think the best thing I’ve come up with is just staying really open and communicative with everyone in my nuclear and extended family. This kind of situation is completely unprecedented in at least a generation or two. Letting people vent when they need to, giving them encouragement when I can, those have been my main actions. Staying informed but away from social media. Make contingency plans for things like hospitals, insurance policies, bank accounts etc. I find that being prepared while understanding that none of this is predictable has been the best attitude for me. No one has the answer, and weirdly enough, that helps with my own stress.

What are the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? What have you done to address those challenges?

I don’t know if this is particular to women, but I am someone who does not really thrive in a work from home atmosphere. I am someone who likes to keep work and home separate so I can stay organized but also so I can enjoy each fully. It has been hard to have that comfort completely shifted. And although I am beyond grateful for my job, the pace has not lessened even a tad. It has been a bit surreal to be working the same amount and be expected to be producing at your usual rate with all of this anxiety and uncertainty in the background.

I don’t think I could understate the importance of having a dedicated workspace in your home. You need an area that is dedicated to your work in order to keep some minutiae of sanity. I’ve also been sure to focus on my physical health in terms of getting plenty of sleep, taking medications, eating a balanced diet and exercising so that my body and brain are at their best when dealing with germs or anxiety. Finally, I’ve definitely leaned on my support circle more than I normally would. The group of people in my professional and personal life who give me advice, tough love, a good laugh  —  I’m not afraid to lean on them and be vulnerable. It encourages them to do the same with me.



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