Working Women Share 5 Ideas for an Inclusive Recovery

BY Paloma Vidgen Head of the Women Entrepreneurs Segment Strategy Bank of the West

Jun 16th 2021

What’s it feel like for your business to go from 60 to zero overnight?

“I would say 99 percent of my contracts were cancelled or put on hold,” entrepreneur Ilhiana Rojas Saldana recalls of early 2020. “I had a good business, and then suddenly, 24 hours later, I had no business at all.”

As a transformation strategy coach with the WiseHer organization, Rojas had built her practice guiding clients through disruptive personal and professional experiences. Suddenly, she needed to take her own career coaching advice and the stakes for her family felt sky high.

“I’m the main breadwinner in my house. We still needed to pay the bills. So, it was trying to manage the pivot, and the stress and anguish of figuring out where the next paycheck was going to come from.”

Rojas sat down recently with three other women executives to share stories and insights from the pandemic and “she-cession” and talk about ways to promote an inclusive and sustainable recovery.

During the pandemic, women-owned businesses closed at a 27 percent rate compared to 20 percent for those owned by men. More than 40 percent of women-owned companies pivoted their business model during the pandemic and 68 percent expect they’ll have to pivot again this year.

Women were also working the “double-double” shift, the term coined by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg for the burden working women shoulder when they’re also responsible for the lion’s share of housework and family care.

Kate Williams, CEO, 1% for the Planet, watched her two kids—ages 19 and 21—return home during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Susan Lansing, a Bank of the West HR executive, lived an array of pandemic experiences through her four daughters, including one losing her job and another, an actor, being furloughed.

So, as the sustainable recovery gains momentum, here are 5 ideas for a truly inclusive recovery that can take us from the she-cession into a she-covery.


“More than two million women have already left the workplace, bringing female workforce participation to 57 percent, the lowest it’s been since 1988,” said Michelle DiGangi, Bank of the West’s Head of Small and Medium Enterprise Banking.

The pandemic reminded many how a crisis can turn a network into a safety net.

“Every time that I talk with anybody, it’s about understanding where they are in their career and what they need help with,” said Rojas. “What are they trying to accomplish? I actually keep a notebook. So when I find other people in my network, who could support them in some way, then I make those introductions. Many have found job opportunities, or career opportunities or professional development opportunities through those connections.”

Rojas emphasized how the pandemic reinforced for job seekers how crucial it is to build and nurture a personal brand, leverage LinkedIn, and shape their story to the specific opportunity at hand.


Mentorship can fundamentally alter the trajectory of a career or a business. Don’t be afraid to seek out a mentor.

“It can feel nerve-wracking to approach someone,” said Williams. “It’s asking for time and you do need to be respectful of that. But you’re also really giving a gift because it’s an honor to be asked to support someone on their journey. I have yet to meet a mentor who has not received it that way.”

Although companies are realizing that building an inclusive business helps with recruiting and retention, Rojas consistently sees career growth of BIPOC women limited by a lack of mentors.

The Small Business Administration calls mentorship the “missing link” to business growth. The agency recommends entrepreneurs connect to a SCORESmall Business Development Center, or Women’s Business Center chapter near them.

One thing I’ve learned is to reach out to the person who will always tell me I rock on a day when I really need to hear that.”

—Kate Williams, CEO, 1% for the Planet


Different from mentorship, but just as important after a year of pandemic stress and emotional turmoil, is the role of the champion.

“One thing I’ve learned is to reach out to the person who will always tell me I rock on a day when I really need to hear that,” said Williams. “Or when I need someone to say, ‘I’m dealing with all of these things, and I’m just confused, and can’t figure out which is the priority,’ talking to someone who helps me navigate is incredibly helpful.”


Societal expectations for women were also exacerbated by the pandemic. After a year of sheltering-in-place, staying home, and locking down, women generally, and mothers, in particular, were overworked and overwhelmed, and underappreciated.

“If we don’t make breakfast, if we don’t put together lunch, if we don’t go and get through the groceries, if we don’t do the report, if we don’t do all these other things that other people are supposed to do or could do, we feel that everything breaks apart,” said Rojas.

She explained that between work and family everything is urgent or important, but there was a strategy to avoid getting pulled into an unwinnable tug-of-war.

“Look at it from a different point of view, which is impact,” she said. “With everything that’s on the table, prioritize based on the impact that not doing that chore, or that activity is going to have on your family, yourself, or the business. When you add impact to your decision making it can really help you prioritize.”


“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves,” said Lansing, Bank of the West’s Head of Talent, Learning, and Development, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “We feel like we have to outperform, and this is a year everyone is outperforming, and we’re working harder and longer.”

Both the potential for burnout and the need for self-care had never been higher.

“Whether you’re a mother, whether you’re an executive or working as part of the food chain, you’re serving other people all the time,” Lansing said. “Scheduling self-care is critical and self-care will be different for different people. For me, it might just be taking a walk with the dog. Really, it’s just about finding out what actually takes care of you and making sure you do it every single day.”

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Paloma Vidgen Head of the Women Entrepreneurs Segment Strategy Bank of the West

As the daughter and granddaughter of entrepreneurs, Paloma is passionate about helping business owners scale their enterprises. At Bank of the West, she leads the Women Entrepreneurs strategy, which includes building partnerships and programs that help entrepreneurial communities succeed.

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