As we step into June and some long overdue sunshine, I wanted to reflect on Mental Health Awareness Month and what it means to be a female tech lead in these challenging times; What coping mechanisms, strategies are they putting in place to get the best out of themselves and their teams and promote greater mental health awareness at work?
I was very privileged to meet up with a number of incredible female tech leaders and gain a glimpse into their working world and what struck me the most was that they are experiencing the same challenges just like everyone else. The difference being that these remarkable women are actively looking at ways in which to free up their teams’ time so that individuals can concentrate on themselves and home life, to help create a greater work/life balance and make a positive step towards fostering greater mental health.
Here are some of their collective pearls of wisdom.
1. Treat everyone as an individual. They realise that offering teams the freedom, permission, acceptance to operate outside the wire and within the context of their own unique situations not only promotes greater wellbeing and mental health, but also fosters greater trust, understanding and loyalty.
2. Breathe, and don’t try and be a superhero: As leaders and (in some cases newly appointed teachers), we place a lot of pressure on ourselves to get everything done. We find ourselves in a constant, exhausting vacuum of juggling work, the kids, home schooling and even the dog and feel guilty when we cannot devote 100% attention to each. One leader commented “guilt is very real for me” and we sometimes “overthink everything which leaves us with very little mental space to flex”. We need to try letting go sometimes and be OK with the fact that sometimes aspects of work or home school on some days just won’t get done. It is OK not to be superhuman and moreover it is really important that your teams know that you are not superhero’s either and that you just doing your best is good enough.
3. Being clear on objectives and make objectives realistic: All of our leaders agreed that not only being clear on objectives but also being realistic about their teams’ capacity to deliver and managing this message upwards, was critical to the success, delivery and wellbeing of their teams. Assessing capacity constraints against portfolio deliverables, versus impact on mental health and therefore impact on resources, meant for one client that capacity was down by 30% so all project deliverables were recalibrated with this new model. “If your staff also have the added commitment of home schooling, their ability to deliver is reduced and this is reflected then in our resourcing model.”
4. Setting up resilient working practices. One of our leader’s organisations has implemented a programme dedicated to shaping tactical targeted activities. By hosting virtual white boarding sessions, the organisation has been able to take the temperature of its staff and translate feedback into actionable insights, leveraging resilience best practices. Other initiatives have included not emailing or direct messaging out of hours, blocking out two hours each day as a virtual drop-in time for individuals to catch up with their managers on an ad-hoc basis, which reduces unnecessary, endless meetings and finally only booking meetings from 10am through to 3pm, allowing staff to breathe and reset either end of the day.
5. Be authentic, present and a role model. One of our leaders described her role as an absolute privilege to be managing and working with such incredible people. She is extremely cognizant of the duty of care of each (virtual) team manager has in living and breathing ethical working practices and values and leading by example. For her this means demonstrating that she takes time out of her day for her own wellbeing and being her true authentic and vulnerable self, which in turn will forge the path for her team to follow, offering guidance and support.
What has impressed me most about the female tech leads I have met is their mental agility, their empathy and their commitment and dedication to their teams. Their compassion and wisdom have not resulted in having less of an edge, but rather it has pushed forward their innovation and need to do things differently in a world which has tested the resolve and fortitude of every single one of us.
What is clear is that come June the 21st when theoretically offices can reopen, (perhaps) to full capacity, they know that the world won’t go back to normal. Issues around staff wellbeing and mental health will continue to pose a significant threat and because of this, their focus on resilient working practices and staff care will reap rewards and will continue to do so, as they have now become advocates of getting the balance right and this will now never change.
If this pandemic has shown us anything, it is that not only have we needed to adapt to a new way of working, but we have also needed to adapt to a new way of managing and leading. By keeping employee wellbeing and mental health at the heart of the agenda organisations will foster innovation, loyalty and resilience, I can’t imagine any CEO who wouldn’t welcome this with open arms, the trick is they need to open their hearts, eyes and ears first!