Markle’s call to action is timely: An estimated two million women in the United States reportedly lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, many of whom are still struggling to regain their footing in a labor market that has been radically transformed. Although men also experienced upheaval during the pandemic, job and income losses disproportionately affected women, according to a policy brief released by the International Labor Organization, partly because they are over-represented in some of the hardest-hit sectors and partly because of their tendency to be the ones performing certain types of unpaid labor, including caregiving. Markle said that she hoped mentoring the women endeavoring to reenter the labor market would create a “ripple effect” across communities and the working world, better positioning them to stand in their power and advance their professional lives.

Inspired by the Duchess of Sussex’s call to action, a NationSwell Council affinity group for gender justice organized a similarly-styled challenge, asking members to donate 40 minutes of their time to support and connect with another working woman on the Council. We followed up afterwards to see how those conversations went — here’s what our members had to say:

Violette de Ayala, founder and CEO of FemCity, said that the majority of her 40×40 conversations centered around balancing both work and life commitments. 

“So many of the women I met made significant shifts in their careers in order to have greater social impact in their communities and in the world… Every conversation was filled with vibes of ‘how do we impact the globe more within our realm and scope of connections and capabilities.’ Collaboration was a key component after each conversation… Within the various titles, organizations, and brands we all run, we had so much in common. It is apparent that we are all humans trying to make the world a better place while finding joy and friendships along the way.”

Stephanie Dodson Cornell, venture partner at Draper Richards Kaplan, said that her conversation was so lovely that the time “flew by”:

“We are going to talk again in a month. I was struck by the strong current of recognition I felt with Alina, despite our very different backgrounds, ages, and experiences.”

Sara Allan, director of early learning and education pathways at the Gates Foundation, said that she quickly realized that the most valuable type of conversation isn’t always work-related:

“We discovered we had immigrated to the US and lived in New York at the same time and share a passion for expanding opportunity for women and other historically disadvantaged groups. We exchanged articles on topics of interest related to supporting young people to thrive and fostering stronger and more diverse executive teams. It was a great connection and I look forward to meeting her in-person at a future Nationswell event.”

Rachel Hutchisson, a current board member at Common Impact and the Blackbaud Giving Fund, said that being matched with another NationSwell member through the 40×40 initiative was, “a moment to remember how wonderful it is to meet someone new without feeling like there was an agenda or goal to accomplish.”  

“I so valued the chance to talk to someone new, to explore intersections, to laugh and to leave feeling emotionally and intellectually fed… We talked about the importance of helping others cultivate their speaking skills and helping them get on stages to share their thoughts. This is a leadership skill, and investing in future women leaders means giving them air time.”

Carol King, chief of staff, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, had a great conversation with her contact about nonprofits and mission-driven work — and they’re even planning a trip to Antarctica together in two years!.

“We talked about our respective career paths, and how important it is to keep an open mind when it comes to new opportunities. The most important thing that women can do is to build their networks and strong professional relationships. We are positioned to be good mentors, connectors, and conveners, and I’m mindful of how important my professional reputation and relationships are in changing jobs or even careers.”

Babita Patel, author of “Breaking Out in Prison,” spoke to her connection about everything from being a Council member to some of the overlap in the work they do. 

“The conversation was not necessarily focused on two women connecting, but rather just two humans working in this space connecting. It was nice to talk to someone who is in another part of the country, having a different experience…living in Arizona vs NYC. We definitely want to connect some more to share more resources and opportunities.”

Mohini Tadikonda, chief advancement officer at Movement Strategy Center, used her time as an opportunity to connect with her contact about what it means to be a woman of color in the workplace:

“I walked away from the conversation with a greater confirmation that being a person of color, particularly a woman of color working in a predominantly white organization, can present a unique layer of challenges regarding visibility, trust, respect, power dynamic, ability to be heard/listened to/valued that become less of an issue when working in a truly racially diverse environment. Unhealthy competition and power dynamics are often created when there are only a few women or people of color represented in a work environment. The power dynamic between white women and women of color in the workplace is also a topic that warrants a deeper conversation.”

Meredith Davis and her contact had a conversation that went so well, they immediately scheduled a follow-up, discussing everything from finding your own resonant leadership style to how to communicate and reinforce that style during times of opportunity.

“We also connected on being full-time working mothers, and what example we want to set for our daughters. In the realm of supporting working women, we discussed empowering our children through Montessori education themes of independence, ‘following the child,’ and having the humility to learn from our children.”

Kibi Anderson, Content, Strategy & Business Development Executive and Professional Development Coach, said that she and the woman she connected with are “totally BFFs going forward,” and stressed that the exercise was especially helpful for busy folks who wouldn’t normally go out of their way to reach out to their networks.

“We bonded over our shared desires to encourage more uncomfortable conversations, especially between female groups around the topics of equity, inclusion, diversity and how we have become so polarized as a society. We honestly were so focused on the joy of sharing our personal journeys that we didn’t really dive into much professional jargon during our call, which was actually refreshing because we connected more on a human level.”