This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was #ChooseToChallenge, which seems appropriate as we pass the one-year milestone of the Covid pandemic. While there isn’t a person in the world who hasn’t been impacted in some way by Covid, women have been disproportionately affected.
Ivy.ai Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Partnerships, Mary Frances Coryell is all too familiar with the balancing act of work and family that became drastically more tedious due to the pandemic. As a mother to three children—two in virtual school—as well as a dog, a bearded dragon, and numerous lambs, goats and horses, Mary Frances says the past year has taken a toll on her.
The phrase “you can’t have it all” doesn’t typically apply to Mary Frances. Having spent most of her career at startups and small firms, she has an entrepreneurial spirit and is accustomed to wearing many hats around the office, which she does effortlessly.
When she joined Ivy.ai in 2017, the company in its infancy and her sole focus was sales. Over the past four years, she’s accelerated and subsequently sustained the growth of the team from a one-woman operation to the high-performing department it is today. In her current role, Mary Frances coordinates with Sales, Client Success, and Marketing to reinforce and cultivate partner relationships, while serving as a thought leader at speaking events and the Ivy.ai Institute.
She welcomes challenges with open arms, saying “I like to push all things that people say are impossible.” However, trying to homeschool while maintaining a full-time job has led to very long days for a very long time.
Balancing Work and Family
Deloitte found that 92 percent of women who experienced a shift in their daily routine due to the pandemic felt the change had negatively impacted them. More than half now have additional childcare responsibilities, including homeschooling, and two-thirds have seen an uptick in household chores.
As of February 2021, nearly 2.4 million women, compared with 1.8 million men, had dropped out of the workforce. One of the primary reasons being lack of childcare.
According to the Center for American Progress, the impact of this level of disruption to women’s presence in the workforce could be massive. Not only are individual families affected, but decades of progress made toward gender equality could be erased. A one percent decline in the maternal labor force could mean a blow to the economy in the form of billions of dollars in tax revenue gone due to these lost wages.
At Ivy.ai, we’re fortunate to have a progressive work environment. Prior to the pandemic, remote capabilities were in place and flexible working hours were permitted, if not encouraged. Having worked remotely since 2004, and splitting her time between Colorado and South Carolina due to her husband’s work demands, Mary Frances is no stranger to the effort it takes to maintain a work-life balance.
She suggests creating dedicated workspaces to create a separation between work, school, and home. Making a routine, and sticking to it, is also essential for managing a multi-purpose environment.
Both Mary Frances and her husband have full-time jobs, but experience busy seasons and lulls throughout the year, allowing them to split household chores and supervise their three children efficiently. Mary Frances says that consistently driving a team mentality inspires everyone in the family to pitch in, support each other and ultimately enjoy more family time.
Managing Stress During a Pandemic
In addition to threatening gender equality in the workplace, the pandemic is taking a toll on women’s mental health. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 57 percent of women, compared with 44 percent of men, experienced a negative impact on their mental health, and nearly half reported suffering symptoms of depression or anxiety.
With a disproportionate number of women in frontline and essential roles, as well as retail, tourism and hospitality, they were not only at a greater risk for contracting Covid, but the latter groups carried the burden of impending layoffs as these sectors were hard hit by mandatory lockdowns and closures. Add in school and daycare closures, and the stress level is compounded.
To stay sane and alleviate stress during 12+ hour days, Mary Frances keeps her mind on the present, focusing on getting through one day at a time. She makes it a point to exercise daily—weight training, yoga, running, and online classes—and she recognizes the benefits of nature when it comes to staying healthy and happy during a year of isolation. She has a variety of hobbies, including boating, snow shoeing, hiking and spending time at the beach.
And like so many others over the past year, the Coryells welcomed a new family member in November: a Siberian Husky puppy. Keeping up with his high energy level has kept them busy and entertained during the past few months!
Increased family time and more outdoor adventure, Mary Frances says, has been the silver lining to pandemic life. Her children’s activities were canceled and their school went virtual. In a typical year, they would have gone to South Carolina with Mary Frances while her husband worked in Colorado. This year, they were able to experience fall as a family in the mountains.