Is it just me or do you agree that this year has flown by AND dragged on? As December rolls around and we get ready to wrap up this year, I was struck by what a strange year 2021 was. We started the year with so much hope and optimism that we were going to put the troubles of 2020 behind us and get back to work. Of course, the COVID-19 virus, Delta variant and now the Omicron variant have made that difficult in various parts of the world. Every time we feel like we are taking some steps towards normalcy, the goal posts move, and we redefine the “new normal”. When I look back, 2021 will perhaps always be the year where almost everything was in a state of flux.


Flux definition as per Merriam-Webster:

A series of changes. Continuous change.



Workplace in flux

This was the year when we were introduced to, and fully embraced the concept of HYBRID work. As employees around the world braced themselves to absorb the impact of the shutdown last year, it quickly became evident that the workplace as we know it has changed forever. Companies tried to keep up with the constantly evolving rules about how to get employees back to work safely. Depending on the case numbers we were told to return to work IN PERSON or continue to work REMOTE or some convoluted version of both. Hence the term HYBRID.

At the same time, we made massive leaps in digital & video conferencing technology, which allowed more people to work outside of their traditional workplace. Through this constant upheaval we concluded that not only is it possible to work remotely, but it is also the preferred choice of many employees. Who wants to spend time commuting when that time can be spent more efficiently with family or being productive at work?



COVID-19 does not support equal opportunity employment

2021 was a tough year all around but it had a devastating effect on women’s careers. According to reports by International Labor Organization (ILO), women lost 4.2% of jobs worldwide, compared to 3% by men. And though men are expected to return to the workforce to pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year, up to 13 million women are expected to stay out of the workforce due to the lingering effects of the pandemic and the subsequent shutdowns. A majority of these women are working mothers, single mothers and women of color. This McKinsey report shows the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women. It is estimated that the gains of the past two decades were wiped out by 24 months of lockdowns and virtual or hybrid schooling.

Similarly younger workers, millennials and Gen Z workers in particular, felt the impact of the pandemic more keenly. According to ILO, globally youth employment fell by 8.7% in 2020 compared with 3.7% for adults. Unfortunately, this is not limited to the workplace alone. As many as 46% of young people, under 24 have reported feeling stressed and feel that the pandemic has interfered with their education & career goals, their social lives and wellbeing.


The more things change, the more they stay the same

In some ways, 2021 reminded me of the early days of my career when I was a newbie in the industry. The Finance industry, like many other industries, is skewed towards a male-dominant workforce. In fact, even as of 2019, women made up only about 22% of the leadership positions in US & UK.

As a young woman trying to make her mark, I raised my hand for every project that I could find. In the process of assisting everyone on their projects, I learnt very early on that I could assume leadership on individual parts of the project that I was responsible for by innovating to improve the process or outcome. The difference between covert and overt leadership is a matter of initiative and enthusiasm. Over the years I have relied on both these skills to break down a business problem into its constituent parts and volunteered to take responsibility for some part of it. This past year was no different.

If there was one piece of advice that I could give to anyone trying to make the most of this difficult year, it would be to assume leadership in bite-sized pieces. This makes it easier to execute without being overwhelmed. There is no need to be formally appointed to a leadership position to take the lead. Do it anyway.


Bridge the gap

A lot has been said about the Great Resignation in 2021. No one can quite agree about whether to call it the Great Reprioritization, the Great Reshuffle, the Great Recognition, or the Great Re-invention. One thing is for sure that just like the physical workplace, we and our teams are also in a state of flux. The pandemic-related anxiety and uncertainty, accompanied by the desire for greater flexibility has resulted in an unprecedented movement of talent in and out of companies. For the people who choose to stay, all this movement can be disorienting. How are we supposed to accomplish anything if we cannot even be certain of our team?

In this case I again go back to the lessons learnt in the early days of my career. If you find yourself in the position of a newcomer in a different org structure or in a whole new company, volunteer for tasks that others wouldn’t do. Not only is is this a great way to quickly enter the inner circle, but it also signals that you are a team player and are willing to build expertise in the whole rather than part of the organization.

If you are the one left holding the fort, try being a mentor and a coach for the new members on your team. In one of the organizations that I joined, a junior associate took it upon herself to show me the ropes in my early days. She demonstrated leadership at it’s best – a selfless urge to share her knowledge.

Many a talent has been lost because they didn’t feel supported in their early days at a company or weren’t onboarded properly. Don’t let this happen to your team. You can make a difference irrespective of the position or scope of your job. 


Find your flex

In conclusion, despite all the upheaval of 2021, I am glad that the year also gave me the opportunity to continue my learning process and find ways to reinvent myself. I am among the more fortunate people who works at a company that believes in “the art of the possible”. Though it is difficult to view all challenges as opportunities, opening ourselves to the belief that there can be more than one solution helps.

If the keyword associated with 2021 is FLUX, then let’s make the keyword for 2022 FLEX! In this coming year, I hope you find your niche and approach it with kaizen. Or be a generalist and execute your tasks with creativity & passion, making it your unique approach. There are many things that are out of our control at work and in our personal lives. The energy that we bring with us is not. As we get ready to close out this year, I hope that you will have a renewed reserve of energy and enthusiasm. In 2022, I hope you find your flex!

10 Responses

  1. Lovely writing 🥰 May we hear the messages of unsustainability in this Flux & transform with Flex 🌎 starting with ourselves

    1. True – it all starts with us as individuals – need to use our energies to work with others to make things happen. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Fabulous writing, Sabita. So many aspects resonate deeply – have personally experienced the benefits of “raising the hand”. My one line takeaway is this one – “The difference between covert and overt leadership is a matter of initiative and enthusiasm.” Thanks for sharing your views.

    1. Very thoughtful Jairam – thanks for your comments. Most of what happens to us is due to ourselves and the way we act and react to stimuli. Comforting to some and disturbing to others no doubt!

  3. Always very thoughtful Sabita ! I couldn’t agree more on volunteering to do the things others don’t want to. You learn a lot and it signals you are there to deliver on collective goals as part of the team. I also found breaking down goals and executing in manageable steps helped avoid feeling completely overwhelmed in what was a year of FLUX as you so aptly put it. Keep sharing your thoughts !

    1. Thank you Maria! Recall fondly in years gone by how we used to discuss these and other issues relating to corporate life. Always a pleasure to hear your thoughts and ideas. Indeed, sometimes we must only look at the next step in our climb and not the whole scary mountain. 2021 was one such: mainly about plodding steadily on and developing our resourcefulness and inner grit – a learning year.