Cassandra Leibensperger gave birth to her daughter Tzipporah in January. She was supposed to start a new engineering job with a government contractor in Huntsville, Ala. when her maternity leave ended in April. But her employer was not able to safely accommodate her work accommodations, required due to her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Plus, childcare centers were shut down all across the state, leaving her no option but to take care of her newborn at home.
Leibensperger looked for freelance opportunities that would allow her to work safely from home while caring for her daughter. She ended up taking a more than $70,000 pay cut doing medical redactions for clinical trials.
“I miss being around people being able to get out of the house and using my brain a lot more than what I’m doing right now,” Leibensperger said. “Because what I’m doing now is sort of mindless compared to making sort of an impact in the world [at my previous job.]”
Leibensperger and her husband are using their savings to make ends meet and have significantly cut down their contributions to the community, donating half what they usually do to their local synagogue and dropping out of the Rotary club.
“We were in a very good financial situation before and now it’s not as easy,” Leibensperger said. “it’s definitely making me have to take a step back and I’d have to essentially restart and rebuild my reputation again.”
Leibensperger is one of many women who have taken a step back in their career due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 701,000 jobs across the country were lost in August, almost 60 percent of them belonged to women. Women-owned businesses have fared similarly. Women-owned small businesses have been impacted more heavily by the pandemic than male-owned small businesses according to a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Wealth Edit, an online community devoted to equipping women with the knowledge to confidently address their personal finance goals, is trying to sway these statistics for women in the South. In April they launched a $25,000 pivot fund, seeded completely by women in the South, to address the loss of funds to women-owned businesses due to the global pandemic.
“Now is not the time to stop, but rather to pivot and grow to a bigger, better future for yourself and your business,” their announcement read.
After working her way up to vice president at a global waste management company, Jessica Findley found herself at the helm of her own business, Neowaste, in 2018. The chemical recycling company that turns plastics into fuel had just begun testing their fuel product on waste materials from renowned companies when COVID-19 hit, pausing all testing measures.
Findley applied for The Wealth Edit’s pivot fund. Emily Lassiter, co-founder of The Wealth Edit encouraged women who applied for the grant to focus on increasing profits instead of cutting costs, because women-owned small businesses are more likely to try and cut costs during economic downturns.
Lassiter and her co-founder Lauren Pearson received 194 applications for the grant., They finally landed on Findley because she had prepared a concrete plan on how she would spend the grant money to help her grow her business and pivot operations during the pandemic.How’d the spend the money? Findley decided to purchase a shredder that would be able to move their waste management system from Shelby County back into the Birmingham’s urban center, allowing Neowaste to take on more clients and decrease transportation funds. Despite losing steam on the fuel production element of her business, Findley would focus on what was in front of them—waste management.
Now, Findley says they are making consistent revenue for the first time since 2018.
Leibensperger is nervous about what her career path will look like when she can go back to work again. But for now she said, she is making it and she’s glad to be spending more time with her baby.
Lassiter and Pearson from the Wealth Edit will join Reckon reporter Abbey Crain on Thurs. Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. on Zoom for a virtual panel discussing women and personal finance. Click here to sign up.