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Women In The Post-Pandemic Workplace – Time To Get Inspired?

June 7, 2022

(MACKINAC ISLAND) – Although around 136,000 women left the labor force during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Nancy Tellemof the BasBlue women’s club in Detroit believes that now, women can design the type of job they want. 

“During the pandemic, I think it had the biggest impact on women. There was a requirement of being at home and it all fell on women’s shoulders. Now the question is, how do you bring them back again?” Tellem said. “What I’ve seen, there are a lot of women that during that period of time, started really reevaluating what they want to do.” 

Tellem spoke at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, where she was featured on Thursday’s “The Future of Women in the Post-Pandemic Workplace” panel. 

BasBlue became open to the public on Oct. 28 of last year, after renovating a Midtown area mansion and redefining the residence with lounge spaces, conference rooms, and an area devoted to health and wellness. 

Tellem described it as the type of place where a professional woman can stop by after work for a drink and to network over jazz music. Zooming in on its programing, Tellem said there are educational seminars and frequent discussions around the “harder issues that we should be discussing.” 

The organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and offers memberships to women, with prices being $158 quarterly or $600 annually for women 35 years-old and under, and $315 quarterly or $1,200 yearly for those older. 

“There are no requirements other than to pay a membership fee, and it’s a nonprofit. So the whole idea of it was really to create itself a safe and welcoming space for women. We’ve been really, very intentional in making sure that the community at BasBlue is very diverse and inclusive,” Tellem said. 

She told the conference that already, her club has more than 650 members ranging from chief executive officers and debut entrepreneurs trying to figure out the direction of their trade. 

“Six-hundred members in less than a year – so is the need there?” said moderator Rhonda Walker– co-anchor of WDIV-Local 4 News‘ weekday morning newscast – on stage. 

From February to December 2020, women in Michigan’s labor force dropped by 5.8%. Meanwhile, within the same timeframe, the male workforce saw nearly 18,000 new members, which is a .7% jump. 

Additionally, the recent poll conducted from May 9-13 and commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber found that 12% of women respondents have exited the workforce for retirement or were not currently working. For men, 7.7% shared the same response. 

For the overall pandemic, Walker said 170,000 women have left. Nationally, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that from February 2020 to January 2022, 1.1 million women exited the labor force, accounting for 62% percent of jobs lost across the United States. 

“Because the way people are working has changed due to technology, depending on your skill set, you can really design the kind of job that you want,” said Tellem. “And for others, I think there’s a greater opportunity.” 

She said BasBlue tries to present and offer up programming for people to be inspired by others or to obtain guidance as they search for a new path in life. 

According to Joi Harris, the president and chief operating officer of DTE Gas, between 25% and 35% of the DTE Gas office is made up of women. At the panel, she explained how her company has utilized the numbers to prioritize encouraging young women to get involved in the skilled trades. 

In June 2021, DTE Energy launched the Tree Trim Academy in Detroit in partnership with the city, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Focus: HOPE – a civil and human rights advocacy organization. 

“We’re (encouraging) women to be a part of that Tree Trim Academy – it’s a readiness program so that they can enter the skilled trades. We’re also engaging with students,” Harris said. “And making sure that we reach those kids early and expose them to the sciences so that they can get interested – much less prepared – taking on STEM careers when they become available.” 

Harris said she is “stomping” for science, technology, engineering and math across the Detroit area. 

Before women leaving the workforce was flagged as a symptom of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan was home to an estimated 436,486 women-owned businesses in 2019, which accounted for the employment of 254,837 individuals from the state. From 2014 to 2019, Metro Detroit experienced an 88% skyrocket in women-owned businesses. 

“When emergencies rise, it just rolls forward and you have an opportunity to use your best practices in your toolkit to achieve the things that you thought were never possible,” said Jeanette Abraham, the president of the “100% minority and woman owned” JMA Global LLC. during the panel. 

Her company – specialized in warehousing and the distribution of fastener components – did lose revenue, Abraham said. 

“But to be honest with you, it was one of my best years, and I didn’t have to suffer. My business grew during that time, which was quite an anomaly,” she said. 

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