According to Institute on Aging, over 75% of family caregivers are women and they may spend over 50% more time providing care than their male counterparts. This statistic is from 2015 and likely inaccurate for many reasons, including many family members not identifying as “caregivers”. And even though the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says women around the world spend 1.1 trillion hours a year on unpaid care for children and the elderly, we tend not to share our experiences with each other. We don’t talk about the overwhelm inherent in juggling childcare, full-time work, professional goals, our social lives, caring for our elderly family members, caring for ourselves.
We acknowledge this, and for these reasons recognize a need to build more resilience and stronger connections across communities of women. Former Speechless director of performance Claire Slattery and I recently facilitated a first of its kind workshop using Mapping Ourselves tools. We designed this workshop to be for women, by women.
These visualization tools, along with the Atlas CareMap, have been designed to help people see themselves and their communities so that there is a better understanding about how care and support flows between and across relationships.
Our goals of the workshop were to help women:
Women who attended the workshop were from various backgrounds. Among them, the co-founder of the Pussyhat Project, a landscape architect, a writer for NPR, a founder of a disaster relief nonprofit, the program director for LA County’s office of sustainability, a musical producer, and a higher education professional. We also had fill-time moms and medical anthropologists. Most didn’t know each other but all were interested in better understanding themselves and their networks of relationships.
Though we are still learning about the value of our Mapping Ourselves tools in terms of achieving the above goals, all participants found value in being able to see their networks. After drawing her CareMap, one woman remarked how quickly communities can be formed and how intensely one’s sense of wellness can be impacted: “I had none of this six months ago. I am now part of a community I love and feel I am deeply cared for.”
We experimented with the new tool, Social Networks, where we mapped our professional relationships – colleagues, peers, mentors, former bosses, etc. The visualization is much more abstract than the CareMap and I was concerned about whether people would be able to talk about their observations. Though we could have framed discussions better, many women were for the first time recognizing patterns in the people they relied on for advice and who they provided advice to.
“If the CareMap visualizes love,” said one participant. “The Social Network tool visualizes trust.”
Women observed how as trust increased, the modality (not the frequency) of conversation changed. So the closer a relationship, the more likely people connected through text (with emojis often a critical communication component).
Another woman commented at the end of the workshop: “I have a better structure for understanding where I fit at work and where I want to fit. I can see opportunities for bringing in and raising people up who reflect the kind of work environment that I want to build around me.”
Women, in particular, experience an imbalance between home and work: we are expected to “Lean In” to professional opportunities while also remaining the dominant caregiver at home – and sometimes, at work. Even more, we are often doing it alone.
“I want more valuable relationships in my life (a community),” wrote another participant. “I want to feel more fulfilled in my work (to experience the things I strive to create for other communities). The CareMap showed me things I already knew but in a different way which was powerful.”
It’s hard for women to ask for the support we need or more fundamentally, to recognize what it is that we need. But this is absolutely critical to being able to truly learn how to lean on each other, and together, begin to fundamentally transform communities of women.
For future workshops, we would like to better illustrate how visualization can be a key part of gaining a clearer understanding of women’s experiences within their families and communities. Likely, a better connection can be made by us facilitators over time, as we hear more stories from the women we work with and understand which facets of their lives most resonate with our interactive visualization approach.