Senior executive asks women to protect workplace gains amid threat of pandemic

A senior executive of multinational company Philip Morris International (PMI) advises women to protect the gains they have made in the workplace amid the rapidly changing environment caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Marian Salzman, Senior Vice President for Global Communications at PMI, said women are picking up disproportionate amount of household responsibility during the pandemic that has changed the work-home environment.

“So I see something really tragic happening as we are going to move away from career to household, and we are going to move to one career, one job again, which is kind of how I grew up in the US in the early 1980s.  And I think we are going to see a return to that.  I think that there will be a generation of women who are going be disadvantaged by this. We have to work harder to be sure that this doesn’t happen.  That is a big mountain to scale,” she said in a webinar hosted by Financial Times on October 1, 2020.  

As one of the world’s foremost trend spotters and female executives, Salzman discussed the topic “The female pivot: the impact of Covid-19 on women in the workplace” in an interview by Brooke Masters, opinion and analysis editor of Financial Times. She said the lockdown, remote schooling, and COVID restrictions have impacted women in many ways.

Salzman, who was the CEO of Havas PR North America and global chair of the Havas PR Global Collective, joined PMI in 2018 to embark on the challenge of helping the company realize its smoke-free future vision. In her senior management team role, she has firmly positioned PMI at the front of the smoke-free conversation.

She said the pandemic and the accompanying movement restrictions have disrupted not only the work and school schedules, but also the body clock especially of women. “I think we are going to increasingly recognize we enter into social contract with our employer and we owe them odd number of hours per day whether seven, eight or nine and we do it on our biological clock and on our family clock, so we can be as effective as possible.  The work day has died.  Covid killed it,” she said.

Salzman said the pandemic has also changed the way of life across the world, including fashion, dining, hobbies, travel and communication and has transformed homes into a part of school and work.

“I think this is the beginning of a very different way of living.  I think we are going to suddenly put enormous amount of emphasis on our homes.  It is not just place to sleep, a place to eat, but it is also going to be your family's classroom, your home office, and a bit of supply chain,” Salzman said.

She said skirts and high heels are disappearing, as women shift to casual and comfortable clothing while working at home.  Instead of designer bags and clothes, there is now a greater emphasis on home furnishings.  Instead of going to events, women are reading books at home, taking care of their pets, or playing ping pong.

“One of the trends is that high heels may die, because I realize my feet have spread so much in this period.  I have also this idea that you are dressing to your waist while Zooming,” she said.

“I feel my whole life has changed because of Covid, some of the things for the better but lots of it for the worst,” Salzman said.  “We have been robbed of our weekends.  So sad that every day feels like a really bad Sunday.  Basically you can do your online grocery shopping 24/7.  What is the difference between Monday and Sunday anymore?” 

“I think it is going to be a very long winter.  And hopefully out of this winter will come new ways of doing things better,” she said.

She advises women who are struggling to cope with the new normal to rediscover their priorities.  “I think the biggest thing is to come up with your own priorities, establish those priorities, and then live to those priorities,” she said.

Salzman said that to protect the gains achieved by women in the workplace, they should consider upskilling or gaining new useful skills.  “If you are using this time as part of a strategic game plan, then you will feel better about yourself because you are going to have a sense of control and be particularly adding skills that will be useful.   Just like big business does long-range planning, people who are career-oriented need to sit down and check their long-range plan,” she said.

She said that while online meetings have their benefits, they lack the warmth of actual conversations.  “I think I would be lying if I said it was easy.  I think team meetings were okay virtually, but nothing like that cup of coffee.  There is nothing like sharing a salad with somebody you work alongside.  There is nothing like that laughter that you had in the office,” she said.

Salzman said she had never thought she would feel energized when she went back to the office one time.  “I feel like I am reengaged and energized,” she said. “I think we are going to work for social rejuvenation, but we are going home to do our work.” 

She also encourages women to try healthy eating, reading, upskilling, reconnecting to people, supporting local entrepreneurs and donating time for a cause during the health crisis.

“And I think there are more little gestures that you can do that can make you feel like you are part of something bigger than what is going on in these four walls,” she said.

“I find an organization that I have always been meaning to support.  I would reach out and say how can I help and whether it is for small donation, whether it is for the donation of time, I actually engage in something that is bigger and be committed in doing it.  Even though it sounds crazy to add another two hours of obligations per week, I think there is satisfaction you'll get about trying something out that you have always been meaning to do. It feels like getting yourself over the hurdle of inertia, because it is really easy to be inert when you are in these four walls,” she said.

Recognizing companies that provide equal compensation for men and women, the Equal Salary Foundation, an organization that works in collaboration with the Geneva University Employment Observatory conferred PMI’s local affiliate, PMFTC Inc., the EQUAL-SALARY certification for two years in a row since 2019. PMFTC is the first and only EQUAL-SALARY certified company in the Philippines.