Q&A: One Northeast Ohio Woman's Pandemic Job Shift

Shardé Lackey visited the Ideastream Public Media studios in June 2021. (Amy Eddings / Ideastream Public Media)
After recovering from COVID-19, Shardé Lackey left the corporate end of the healthcare business to work for herself – a change she said would have been unlikely to make if the pandemic hadn’t come along. [Amy Eddings / Ideastream Public Media]
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Women are returning to the workforce after pandemic shutdowns last year forced them out at a much higher rate than men.

The national unemployment rate for women was 5.5 percent in June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic, down from 13.9 percent in May 2020, the thick of the COVID-19 crisis. The rate for men at that time was 11.6 percent.

But women may not necessarily be returning to the jobs they once had. Shardé R. Lackey of Lyndhurst, a 33-year-old licensed social worker and mental health and addiction counselor in private practice, is one of those women. She answered an Ideastream Public Media callout seeking women’s stories about how the pandemic affected their work lives s and spoke with “Morning Edition” host Amy Eddings about her pivot.

Shardé, you were in the health field when the pandemic hit, working at a local mental health and addiction treatment facility. Your job was as a utilization review manager. Can you tell me what that is?

Yeah, so keeping it simple, basically, I was the manager of the department where we were seeking for the insurance companies to approve treatment.

And while you were there, you got sick with coronavirus. How sick did you get?

It was bad. It was pretty bad. I was sick for six weeks. Thank God I’m not the type of person that I had to be hospitalized. But it was sick enough to, that you’re off of work for six weeks.

So you returned. But you told me that shortly thereafter you left due to a dispute with your managers over their mask policies.

Yes. They wanted us to specifically wear the blue surgical masks, the paper – I call it paper-type mask. And we had to wear that type of particular mask, even if we had our own mask. But it was difficult to have my mask on, which was cotton-based, and that makes it easier to breathe. And they wanted me to wear the blue mask on top of that. So it was defeating the purpose of wearing this particular type of mask, because I had the case, the type of [COVID-19] case, where it was very difficult to breathe. And it just didn’t do well with me.

So, suffice it to say, you couldn’t reach an agreement with your supervisors.

Correct.

You left.

Yes.

Did you try finding similar work?

I did. And for whatever particular reason, it was the oddest thing ever. I knew I was qualified for these jobs and I was applying for them, but no one was hiring. It’s on Indeed, it’s on LinkedIn, but nobody’s hiring.

Which is so interesting, right? Because the narrative out there has been, ‘We need employees! We need workers!’

Yes, yes. And that was one of the most frustrating narratives that I heard in 2020. Because you’re seeing signs everywhere, but when you go to apply, you’re not getting call backs or interviews or anything.

So then what happened? You had to make money.

I did. That actually forced me into jumping head-on into private practice therapy. Because I was doing it part-time.

And you say you’re seeing a lot of clients?

I am.

What are they presenting with? Stress from the pandemic?

Stress from pandemic, but you know what, Amy? What I’m seeing the most is difficulty in relationships. So, the pandemic is forcing married couples that, they’re used to going to work   ̶  ‘I don’t have to see you all day, every day’ ̶  but because of the pandemic, you have to sit there with that person all day. They have to be with their children all day. They’re coming in, pulling their hair out, saying, ‘I thought I knew this person, but I don’t. What do I do with this?’

Would you have made this pivot to working for yourself if you were still at your old job?

I don’t think so.

Do you really want to get fully back into that kind of management work?

I would – you know what? That is a good question! Part of me is like, yes, because of the financial stability that comes with that. But the other side of me is, is wavering because of the many lives I touch every day. And also having the satisfaction of not having to report to anyone. That is extremely fun! And so it’s cultivating a sense of autonomy that I always wished to have. So, it’s interesting.

If you're a working woman with a story to share about your post-pandemic employment experience, please contact Amy by calling Ideastream Public Media's Listener Contribution line, (216) 916-6476.

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