The annual Women’s Leadership Forum is a time for women across Alexandria to come together in solidarity, and so we did, through virtual avatars, video screens, and chat boxes.
A first for the event, but old hat for the members of society still in a global pandemic, today’s Women’s Leadership Forum marked the 1-year anniversary of Coronavirus officially being declared a pandemic.
This historic morning, over 100 Alexandrians were welcomed by a panel of five well-established Alexandrian women.
Frederique Irwin, Founder and CEO of Her Corner
Dr. Rina Bansal, President of INOVA Alexandria Hospital
Melissa Robinson, Head of Employee Engagement—Amazon in the Community, at Amazon
Michelle DeLaune, Senior Vice President, Chief Operation Officer of The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)
Ally Kirkpatrick, Owner of Old Town Books
These women led us in a discussion of surviving the pandemic, as a woman, as a working woman, as a mom, as a wife, and as the countless other roles that women play in a lifetime.
Dr. Rina Bansal started off by saying, “This was a challenge, and as a leader, there was a part of me that really wondered if I could do it, lead an organization of 1,700 team members through a crisis.” Dr. Bansal constantly looked to the other women in her organization as role models. “My team members is where I get my strength,” she says.
Melissa Robinson agrees with that source of strength when she says, “Our employees still really want to connect with each other and the community.” Amazon had to pivot drastically, going from in person volunteer opportunities to constantly working behind a screen. There is nothing that will make you appreciate human connection than losing it.
For Michelle DeLaune and NCMEC, when it comes to saving and protecting children and families, human connection is essential for success. “Because of the difficult emotional nature of the job, it is hard to provide support even when you are physically together. It is important to have that barrier between work and home, so we are providing more flexibility in terms of work hours and trying to support each person in their own unique position.”
This last year has been exponentially difficult physically and emotionally regarding both work life and home life. Dr. Bansal reminds us that, as women, emotion might play to our strengths. “What we as women leaders have as strength is empathy. What we would have maybe hidden five years ago, those are our strengths, talking through fear, anxiety, worry, and building that trust.”
The ability to empathize was crucial to Ally Kirkpatrick and her business during the pandemic. “I couldn’t have done this bookstore in any other city. There were all these women to turn to, as an outlet for stress, but that quickly became an outlet for creativity and collaboration.” With that support system of other working women, Ally has been able to keep on all 11 of her employees, and has actually grown her business through the pandemic.
This past year has seen women supporting women, and as we move into an era of vaccinations and a new normal, we will continue that support not just for women, but for the world. We will be able to travel and hug loved ones again, but until then, we must maintain the empathy we have felt and the trust we have built. It’s gotten us this far, let’s see how much further it can take us.