Women are bearing the brunt of the Covid-19 crisis. But if anyone is up for the challenge, it’s them.
“We’re such good multitaskers, and no one is multitasking more than women right now,” Anne Finucane, vice chairman of Bank of America and chairman of the board of Bank of America Europe, recently said during a conversation with Know Your Value’s Mika Brzezinski.
Finucane, who in 2019 Forbes named as one of the “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women,” would know. Amid the global pandemic, she’s been working from home, overseeing the company’s strategic positioning and leading the company’s environmental, social and governance, sustainable finance, capital deployment and public policy efforts. Not an easy task, especially when she was at one point working under the same roof with eight other family members, three babies and two dogs.
Finucane, 68, chatted with Brzezinski about what life and work has been like during the pandemic, what the landscape might look like on the other side of Covid-19, her best advice for women over 50 who are trying to relaunch their careers and more.
Below is their conversation, which has been edited for brevity and clarity:
Mika Brzezinski: We’re talking to women at the top who run things, even in a pandemic. I'm curious, what is your new normal now, and how did you get there?
Anne Finucane: When the pandemic began, I think like everybody else, I just somehow assumed it would be finite – that it would be done in a few months. So, at first, it was sort of 24/7. You had to make sure your own team was OK. Also, with such a large corporation, you have obligations to the community in which we work and live … We immediately put in $100 million extra, on top of the $250 million that we give philanthropically every year, just for things like PPE equipment, food, helping with community needs as quickly as we could, as locally as we could.
So, there was a sense of an emergency … And then it went on. I don't know for other people, but for me, I had to really to re-adjust to the fact that this wasn't just a [short-term] emergency.
MB: I hear you on that. I'm feeling like 2023 is maybe when we are at the other end of this, but life will always be different. For example, I don't see us not wearing masks on planes. I'm not sure if we shake hands, which is such an important, powerful part of a first meeting. What do you think?
AF: I’m a little more optimistic than that. I think that eye-to-eye contact cannot be duplicated in any other way than in person. And I think without it, it's very hard to read a room. It's very hard to know the mood. It's very hard to be creative when you can't interact and ideate with people. I think those things are very difficult. We're all doing them on Zoom and WebEx and on conference calls, but there's certainly something missing.
I think by the end of 2021, we will have some sense of normalcy. I think you're right. I think we'll take precautions that we never would have taken before, like wearing a mask, hand sanitizers and maybe even giving each other a little more distance. But I think that it's much like after 9/11, the kinds of precautions we took that we never could have envisioned before that tragedy.
MB: I agree. What about your own life in terms of how you work? Where do you work now, and how have you adapted?
AF: On the macro level, I feel very fortunate and I have a sense of gratitude that I have a good family, a nice home and I really like my job. I love my husband. I love my kids. These things are gifts when you recognize how many people are truly suffering without a job, with loneliness, without enough food, etc.
But when you're talking about yourself, selfishly, it's been challenging. I work in my house. I have a room in my house that I kind of call my office, but it took me three months to get to that. I was in one place, another place then negotiating with [my husband] Mike for space and my daughter, Julia. For a while, we had nine adults, three babies and two dogs here.
…But that’s all abated. Everybody has their space here. I think the hard thing is knowing when to end a day. I have a hard time ending the day because people call you, they want to make meetings. You have a need to feel obligated, you're not traveling. So, there you are, and you just keep going. Then you look outside and realize you haven't walked anywhere. I had to get with the program. Within the first three months, I gained 10 pounds…You know, it's stressful. And I eat when I'm stressed.
MB: I was there. I gained the pandemic 15. And then I had to backtrack over the course of four months. It's sort of like when you have a newborn. You're around food all the time in your kitchen, you’re eating and you’re worried …What has been your biggest challenge and biggest accomplishment on the job since the pandemic began?
AF: The biggest challenge was learning how to work with people remotely. I like to meet with people. I used to travel all the time. I'm the vice chairman at Bank of America, but I'm also the chairman of the Board of Bank of America Europe. So I spent a whole lot of time in Europe the last few years overseeing those European operations. It’s very interesting and there are different cultures, so it really requires you to be meeting with people in person. And you're doing all of that remotely now.
So, I'd begin a day in the dark, and I ended in the dark because Europe is about five or six hours ahead of us … I had a hard time figuring out my day and how to begin and end it. And also, navigating how to deal with issues that you should be doing in person -- I've really had a hard time with that. What I did learn is how to just do it anyway. How to make one-on-one phone calls, how to limit the group on Zoom. I find that if I write out what I'm thinking and share it with people, then listen to other people… it may not be as good as being in the room, but I'm just trying to stimulate some sort of conversation that we're in this together.
MB: It’s a whole new world, and once you get it down, there are still people that you're working with who haven't yet, and everyone's at their different shades of adjustments. It’s a process for sure. Separately, you have so many wonderful grandchildren in your family. I feel like you are increasing our population. What a way to move forward.
AF: It is what has brought me so much joy. We have our two older sons that married a few years back… and they since have each had two babies. Nick and his wife Meg have Emmet and Malachy. Colin and his wife Jackie have Tessa and Eloise. And they all happened within a three-year period.
…In a very difficult time, it’s wonderful to be able to see so much of my kids and their children.
MB: Do you have any advice for women over 50 who are trying to re-launch, restart, or keep going in the middle of this pandemic? Any words of wisdom from someone who has become so successful and so powerful?
AF: Well, I don't know about the latter, but I do have some advice. I think that, particularly for older women, this is a difficult time, and some women have lost jobs and need to re-launch. Keep that network going. And when I say network, I mean, friends and family, and be dogged about it, and be thinking about your skill set.
I think women really underestimate what their skill set is … Stick with what you're good at, and be bold about it. I do think keeping your network is incredibly important and the ability to listen, to see where the world is going and try to fit into that part of it rather than try to make the world fit into you right now, because that may not be as possible.
I just think right now, maybe more than ever, we've got to have some confidence in ourselves that we can reach a little more. You know, every man thinks he can do anything and it just seems to me women are so capable and yet they're worn down. I think, you know, women are holding up the family, either having a job or trying to find a job. And there's just no substitute for trying to stay connected to other women…