As part of our annual International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrations, we like to take a look back at the past year and how it has impacted women in our company, as well as women globally. In the past, it’s been an exercise in listing our many accomplishments and events followed by a somewhat raucous, but always entertaining, social hour where we share the year’s IWD event theme and pose, take photos and enjoy cupcakes and conversation.
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many ironies in our pandemic story. The first is that in May and June 2020 we attended the Mass High Tech Council (MHTC) program run by McKinsey & Company called Unlocking the Potential of Women. As part of that program, the WLF registered four teams of four, men and women, and learned much from the 2019 McKinsey survey and report among other resources shared during the program. The goal of the program was to learn how to address organizational inequities around gender and race as we would address any business problem, with clear tools for analyzing data and developing solutions. Each team proposed an initiative for the company as a final project and we are looking forward to sharing these with our AspenTech colleagues in an upcoming event.
We did all this while navigating the complex realities of the still-new pandemic. You might say that at the same time we were directly experiencing the impact of CV-19 on women’s careers, we were busy analyzing what the previous year said about women in the workplace. As a global team, we ran three virtual worldwide events during the early months of the pandemic, starting with a Fireside Chat with AspenTech Board Member Georgia Keresty. This was the first interview with one of our board members and we saw record engagement – undoubtedly in part because virtual events were still pretty new to most of us at that time. Jump ahead a few months, and we have all been living virtually via video-conferencing platforms for longer than we’d like to remember and we’re now exploring ways to combat burn-out from our new, ‘always online’ way of life.
Our second worldwide virtual event had two parts: a session with women’s leadership coach Kim Meninger on building confidence and the value of self-promotion, followed by a discussion group. All three of our virtual events had record attendance – a trend that has continued as we’ve slowly resumed programming during the past few months.
Our team became larger this year, incorporating additional regions. We added chapters in Bahrain, Russia, and Montreal, growing our worldwide steering team to 49 people. As the summer months went on, we reorganized our teams and built a structure around them to streamline the planning and execution of our events. A number of members stepped up and took on the roles of ‘regional leads’ and now participate in a smaller, worldwide planning team while leading their local steering groups.
The 2020 IWD celebration was the last in-person event AspenTech’s Women’s Leadership Forum held. It’s hard to believe that a whole year has passed since many of us were in the office. I don’t think anyone anticipated that we would be marking this anniversary, but I do think this year’s IWD theme, “Choose to Challenge,” couldn’t be more appropriate. Although none of us chose this particular challenge, now that vaccines are becoming available and spring is once again in the air in the northern hemisphere, we can be proud of what we’ve accomplished thanks to having the resilience to weather the storm, the creativity to roll with the punches and the determination to keep going.
Unfortunately, we now have our work cut out for us. Since the pandemic began, record numbers of women have left the workforce and women of color have been disproportionally affected. Analysts have predicted this impact may set women’s progress back 100 years, and the McKinsey 2020 Women in the Workplace study looks quite different from the one we saw just last year. The post-pandemic challenge will include finding ways to regain ground that has been lost. What will our next year in review look like? It is hard to predict, but with continued access to current and new resources, programs and events, and with groups like ours popping up around the world, I am optimistic.