IACCGH Women Mean Business: Being A Woman During The Age of Covid

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Written By Manu Shah

IACCGH’s Women Mean Business event on August 31st was, in the words of Shell representative Alyssa Henderson, a “Shell-worthy event.”  The Webinar titled “Being a Woman in the age of COVID-19” highlighted the extra burden COVID-19 had placed on women and the balancing act it required from us as women, caregivers, and professionals.  Keynote speakers Malisha Patel, Senior VP, and CEO of Memorial Hermann Southwest and Sugar Land, and Alyssa Parrish, Senior Counsel for Rite Aid, who play lead roles in their respective organizations, shared COVID-19’s impact on them, professionally and personally, and how they juggled work and the home front.  They concurred that, for the most part, women “are all in the same boat.”

Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia welcomed the gathering and thanked Shell for their long-standing sponsorship of the highly popular series that sought to empower women.  President Tarush Anand offered a brief overview of the Chamber’s 21-year history and how the “Chamber makes business happen.”

Past President and Board member Joya Shukla, who has been leading the series, noted that the vision behind the events was to encourage women who have broken boundaries to share their challenges and successes and empower other women.

The ripple effects of COVID -19, according to the keynote speakers, were felt in four major sectors: health, financial income, caregiving responsibilities, and normalcy of routine.  Women on average are picking up 15 more hours a week related to childcare and household tasks. Sectors such as health care, leisure, and the hospitality industry are composed of predominantly women.  For instance, according to Malisha, Memorial Hermann has 28,000 employees and over 75% of them are women.

In addition to her leadership role at Memorial Hermann, Malisha is a mom of two young children who switched to remote learning at the onset of the pandemic.   Fortunately for her, her husband Bhavesh, who also began working from home, is a huge support and has been the one “coordinating with the children, schoolwork and grocery shopping.”  As CEO of an organization that works with frontline caregivers and patients, there was a significant time commitment ” in responding to the crisis.  The challenge for her was not bringing the stress home and optimizing her time at home. She recharges from the demands of her job with a 10-minute yoga or meditation session and believes that it’s important to make time for yourself and “find those resources to help you get through.”  The silver lining was time with the family, the walks, and the “simplicity that COVID-19 forced on us.”

Alyssa, who was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago and is at a higher risk from COVID-19, also found herself leaning on her husband and establishing a new family rhythm with her 5-year-old twins.  She quickly switched to working from home and for the last four months has been using the Calm App to “decompress and sort of compartmentalizing what is happening.”  The flexibility of working from home allows her to unplug and walk “every square foot of her neighborhood.” She changed her working hours to early mornings and late nights and found that she had time to read and cook.  Not only did she find this setting “freeing” but found herself “thriving.”  A work tip that worked well was designating a work zone which helped set boundaries with the children. This opportunity for bonding with her children and husband was a “very important silver lining out of this” and she is now more understanding of her priorities and putting her family first.

Two Past Presidents of the global nonprofit Pratham, who have been featured as Keynote Speakers at past WMB events, also weighed in on the life changes brought about by COVID-19.  Asha Dhume, one of the initiators of the Women Mean Business Series with Past President Joya Shukla, is the director of sales and marketing at Elliot Systems.  Along with savoring the bonus time with her children to come closer as a family, Asha is experimenting with different cuisines and testing her green thumb with an organic vegetable garden.  A very social person, this has been “a great time for self-reflection.”

Dr. Marie Goradia’s, whose scientific background kicked in, used this time to learn about the virus and impress upon people why they needed to take the CDC’s guidelines seriously.  The Goradia family kept up with their philanthropy by donating to food banks and sent funds to provide meals for the underprivileged in Mumbai.   On the personal front, her husband Vijay and she go on long walks, do yoga, play the piano, sing, read and play bridge.  Despite the fear of COVID-19 hanging over all of us, she is “very grateful just to be alive, happy, and healthy.”