When Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka announced they were exiting the 2021 Olympics to care for their mental health, detractors were confused. Black women, however, immediately understood.
The past two years have been rife with highly stressful intersectional events: the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice uprising and the Great Resignation. Data shows 2.3 million women have either left or were forced out the workforce due to layoffs, taking time to take care of children or simply burnout. Unfortunately Black women are on the losing end of this upswing.
This sobering information isn’t surprising to Gala Jackson, Director of Coaching and Lead Executive Career Coach at Ellevest.
“Black women face an extraordinary amount of societal pressure at the onset by just being themselves,” she said. “When we couple that with the world’s recent events and professional ambitions, it’s not hard to deduce that they need a break after a while.”
As a part of her job, she regularly encourages women to take a look at their needs and at least consider taking a career break if their mind and body call for it. She also took her own advice when she experienced extraordinary loss within a short period of time.
“My dad became very ill due to cancer and passed away at the end of last year,” she shared. “Then I lost one of my dearest, very closest, best friends in a tragic car accident just before the Thanksgiving holiday, and I had a fur kid for almost eighteen years and lost her around the same time as well. I had these three huge losses in succession at the end of last year and I knew I had to find a way to take care of myself and take a break.”
She also has advice for those that want to take a break but feel they can’t because of financial reasons.
“If you’re unable to take a sabbatical because it doesn’t align with your financial goals, I would implore you to ask yourself what the source of burnout could be. Is it because you’re overextending your skills in one area? Do you need to use other skills or be creative in different skills that still bring in income to pay the bills? That way, you’ll get a bit of reprieve from using the skills you’ve tapped out on.”
For other women who have taken sabbaticals and fear they have lost their professional footing as transition back into their roles, Jackson says worry not–you’ve got this.
“If you’re returning to the same company, find a way to keep yourself minimally updated on big happenings while you’re away so there’s not a total disconnect upon your return. If your company uses a platform like Slack or has meeting updates, setting aside a very small block of time to get caught up can help. Additionally, if you’re planning to stay within the organization, I think it’s important to have thoughtful conversations before your departure about how long you’re going to be gone, what will happen to the projects that you are working on while you are away and what the transition process is going to look like when you return. And I’m going to be honest, it’s imperative to put this all in writing so that you’re protected.”
Although the U.S. work structure pushes workaholic culture, Jackson says sabbatical leave is becoming more commonplace and has proven to benefit companies’ bottom line.
“People used to gawk at gaps in the resume and they do not anymore,” she said. “That’s consistent in the research and what we’re seeing in the workforce. The other thing that I would say is that taking a break makes you a better leader. Take care of yourself first and everything else will make more sense.”