A Message From The President

June 2020

As I write my final piece for the newsletter, I wanted it to be upbeat, positive and happy. But I just can’t – I can’t write such an article after my entire presidency, the presidency of a women’s organization like Athena no less, has occurred during a pandemic that has had such a devastating effect on women. I did some googling so that I’d have some statistics to cite, and I was simply blown away by the number of articles – and the titles of these articles – describing the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on women – “Why Women are Quitting Work,” “the Pandemic’s Outsized Effect on Women’s Mental Health,” “Women and the Pandemic’s Serious Damage to Work, Health and Home Demands Response,” “Pandemic’s Uneven Toll Shows Most Workplaces Still Don’t Work for Women,” “10 Ways the Pandemic is Hurting Women,” and “How the Pandemic is Negatively Impacting Women more than Men, and What Has to Change,” just to list a few.

I’m not trying to write an educational treatise here so I’ll simply summarize what I’ve read by saying the most common threads seem to discuss increased domestic violence, record burnout and unemployment of women with high numbers leaving the workforce entirely, hampered access worldwide to sexual and reproductive healthcare, and increased mental health concerns, including binge drinking. Pretty much every article I read came to the same conclusions: what the pandemic has revealed is the existing fragility of underlying systems as they relate to women, whether they are economic, social or political. Some argue that American workplaces still don’t work for women; others point out major flaws in care arrangements; and others blame various governmental or political groups for failing to address existing inequities. In other words, all these problems were already there and unaddressed prior to the pandemic. What the pandemic did was shine a bright light on them when forced changes went into affect – women forced to quarantine with their abusers; women seen on Zoom taking care of children (heaven forbid!); and women over represented in industries hit by the pandemic, like hospitality, retail, education and manufacturing.

So what to do? “Take this opportunity to address these existing problems” seems to be the most popular answer. “Women need to work harder to address these inequities“ is a popular second. “Make greater diversity a priority“ comes in third. Each of these proposals fails to address two (2) things – we’ve been trying to do all of them for years for one, and they each require the desire to change. Yes, I think a lot of women would favor change, but what about the majority of white men who run most of the big businesses and most governments? What I currently see  instead is actual resistance to change, accompanied by either disregard or disbelief that the changes are needed.

One interesting statistic did stick out to me – a UN Women’s article from mid-pandemic pointed out that countries led by women had six times lower COVID deaths than countries led by men. Along a similar but not directly related vein, I’ve seen lots of statistical support for the concept that companies with diverse boards and a diverse workforce are more successful economically. Maybe at some point, these kinds of numbers will convince people that change is not only necessary but good, and that the female half of society deserves a fair shake. I hope I live to see it.

So now I’ll try to be happy and positive as this past year did have many happy and positive moments. Mostly, I want to thank the Athena board of directors for all their help, guidance and support throughout the year.  Likewise, this year’s committee chairs did an outstanding job, turning less than great conditions into very positive outcomes. And none of us would have been anywhere near as successful without our great administrator, Johanne, who mastered Zoom and all sorts of other programs to enable us to be together remotely. All these wonderful helpmates are listed below, and I hope you will all join me in thanking them for all their efforts this year.  Together we kept Athena working and moving in so many positive ways – just read through the annual report for example after example. Thanks, too, to the membership as a whole for all the support and innovative ideas for moving us forward. This certainly wasn’t the Athena year I expected, but it was truly a wonderful and growth experience for me, and I thank you for the opportunity.