The Challenge and Opportunity of a Post-Pandemic World

friends uniting during COVID

By Sarah Sladek, growth strategist and futurist

Pandemic. Racial tension. Riots. Fires. Political conflict.

Yes, much about 2020 has been unprecedented. It’s a defining, historic moment, and it’s times like this that influence the behaviors, values, and attitudes of us all, but most significantly the youngest of generations.

No one could have predicted a year quite as tumultuous as this one, yet our society has been on a path of more frequent, accelerating disruption for the past 25 overs. In many ways, 2020 is a poignant reminder that to collaborate, innovate, and create the future we want and need for our workplaces and communities requires forward momentum.

In 2021, I predict we’ll see an increased desire for security and well-being, activism, and accountability, connectivity, and a commitment to women and children.

Prior to the pandemic, employee disengagement was up, as was turnover, anxiety, and stress. Research efforts continued to prove people were increasingly unhappy.

Prior to the pandemic, diversity and inclusion were ideals, but not priorities. Just one example of many: Women celebrated the 100th anniversary of the vote in 2020, yet our gender still doesn’t have equal pay or representation among the ranks of leadership.

Prior to the pandemic, and throughout 2020, conflict and violence have become norms. From school shootings to human trafficking, Black Lives Matter, and political conflict, over an extended period of time we’ve all fought, grieved, protested, and prayed for something to change.

Perhaps 2020 is the impetus that will make change possible.

As a futurist, I spend a considerable amount of time contemplating who and what is coming next. In 2021, I predict we’ll see an increased desire for security and well-being, activism, and accountability, connectivity, and a commitment to women and children.

Security and Well Being

In many ways, our society is still recovering from the Great Recession. The pandemic, historic rise in unemployment, and a steep decline in GDP foreshadow prolonged financial insecurity and economic uncertainty. As a result, feeling secure, safe, and happy will become key decision-making drivers in all we do and experience — from shopping to healthcare, lifestyle, career choices, and beyond.

Activism and Accountability

Generation Z, ages 11-24, have spent most of their youth raising their voices for change. They have literally walked out of school and taken to the streets to protest. The power is shifting. From here on out, leaders will be expected to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, using their influence to lead and influence positive social change.


One thing will never change, and that is our desire to be together. We all share a constant desire to connect to others, even in difficult times. What we’ve learned through this process is the importance of relationships and putting people first. It will be imperative for employers and brands to truly listen to their audiences and be responsive to them.

Commitment to Women and Children

In a matter of days, 1 billion students worldwide stopped going to school and many still haven’t returned. In a matter of months, thousands of women left the workforce, erasing a talent bench that’s accumulated over the past several decades. As we abandon the ship that is 2020, I predict 2021 will bring changes that put the needs of women and children first.

Forward. That is the only option. In every change there is both challenge and opportunity. Let us focus on the opportunity and what lies ahead of us and within us. Then and only then can we collectively turn the tide to realize more peace, equality, and community.

Sarah Sladek is a growth strategist and futurist. She is the founder and CEO of XYZ University LLC, a future-focused consulting firm, and host of the web show Save the Associations. Sladek is the author of five books and in 2018, she was named a Talent Economy Influencer.

This post is part of a month-long January CircleAround series in which we asked writers to explore the topic "What Comes Next?" Now that we’ve (thankfully) turned the corner on 2020, what can we expect from 2021? Business-wise and family-wise, mentally and spiritually. To see all the posts in the series, visit here. And if you'd like to contribute to the series, send us your thoughts to or post on our "2021 Vibes Wall."

CircleAround is operated by a wholly owned subsidiary of Girl Scouts of the USA. The site serves adult women nationwide by providing content that is uplifting, thought-provoking, and useful. We make revenue distributions back to GSUSA so they can further their mission of building girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.


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