How the Pandemic Changed 7 Women’s Careers

Whether they were furloughed, left long-held positions, or were inspired to switch fields entirely, these local women found success during the pandemic by staying true to themselves.
Women working at desk Indy Maven

The pressures on women during the COVID-19 pandemic have been immense, with the virus having a profound impact on the number of women in the workforce. According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), over 1.8 million women have either left or been forced out of the labor force since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and many women are still currently struggling with whether to switch careers or leave work altogether.

The seven local women profiled here have all shifted gears in their careers due to the effects of the pandemic, but they have each soldiered through the past year’s adversity to strike out on their own and create businesses that are a reflection of themselves and their passions.


Starla Kay Mathis Co-Owner of Mathis Media2020 was life-changing for everyone. I experienced several loved ones passing, being furloughed, co-teaching our children at home, and life kind of slowing down to focus on what truly matters most. As a wife, mother of two, and creative, it was time to go full speed in my businesses, dreams, and goals and truly make “ish” happen. I worked in the corporate world and ran my businesses part-time for several years.

I’m so grateful that I was able to go full time in my entrepreneurial endeavors with Mathis Media, a marketing and media company that I co-own with my husband. My co-founders and I publicly launched Create. Connect. Collab., a community for women creatives and business owners that provides accountability, resources, and connections to Make Ish Happen! I’ve faced my fears and tapped into plus-size modeling, another dream that was placed on the back burner. I’m truly in a space where each day we must live fully, face fears, love others well and be kind to ourselves.


Ginger Smith owner of Snap Image PhotographyI spent 25 years working as a teacher, which I absolutely loved and wouldn’t change for anything. But, during the pandemic, I searched within myself and decided that it was “now or never!” I decided to take the leap and focus on my photography business, Snap Image Photography, full time. Photography has long been a passion of mine, and I love sharing my joy with others and celebrating and capturing important milestones for families throughout their lives.

I find great joy in photographing weddings, senior photos—and of course, adorable babies! Each and every shoot helps to reaffirm my decision, and I plan to keep trusting the Lord throughout my journey.

Johnette Cruz owner of Elevated by JC
Photo credit: @erinkayphotography

In 2012, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. After having six surgeries and three organs removed, I decided to take my health into my own hands. Dancing my whole life and then deciding to get healthy led to me launching Elevated by JC, a fitness brand that helps elevate people’s lives through personal nutrition plans and high-energy dance workouts. COVID honestly made me take the leap—I felt the need to really dive into who I am in an authentic and genuine way.

Since being diagnosed, I participated in a half marathon, competed in fitness competitions, and led an array of dance fitness classes, all while learning how to properly fuel my body with the right nutrition and guidance. I want to show others that you too can defeat the odds, get healthy, strengthen your faith, feel confident in your own skin, and create your best self. Fitness gave me the confidence I never had before.

I think it’s important to have your own style, love who you are, find inspiration from others, and most importantly, feel beautiful. I currently do nutrition and personal training online and in person, have an online dance fitness library that people can subscribe to, teach classes in person, and do events. I am also currently working on my own studio space that will be located in Fishers!


Anne O'Brien creator of Sweat and SipIn order to release the crazy stress of the world during quarantine in 2020, I started working out to YouTube videos at home and I realized how important exercise was for my own mental health. I wanted to dedicate more time to fitness as well as help others find the same joy I found in working out, too. It is with this sense of curiosity of all things fitness, and especially a desire to connect others together in the community which we all so desperately need in the wake of the pandemic, that I created Sweat & Sip: a series of pop-up fitness events.

We host events one to two times a month featuring different group fitness activities and a time to socialize over a drink. It has been inspiring to see community members and businesses reach out to participate as we grow!


During the pandemic, I decided to leave where I was working to open my own business, ILC Salon. I realized that I wanted to be in charge of my time and to have the freedom and flexibility to create my own schedule around my family. I also wanted to create more of an intimate experience for my guests to feel comfortable and relaxed one-on-one.


Shelli Vester owner of Shape Up ShelliI had just landed a medical sales position that I was very excited about less than a year before the pandemic hit, and unfortunately, I was among the 25% of the sales force who were let go. I spent months looking for another position alongside thousands of highly qualified candidates, but for one reason or another, there was no offer in sight. After eight long, defeating months, I was hired as a salesperson in a different field at a well-respected, reputable company, and was just so grateful to be working again.

During the time off, I also decided to focus on my personal goals and start my own endeavor as a health and wellness coach. I take a holistic approach to health coaching that includes nutrition, physical activity and movement, stress reduction and mindfulness, and strengthening of the mind + body connection. I have always been passionate about helping others improve their health and happiness, and now I’ve officially created a business doing so.


Autumn Rae owner of Autumn Rae CoachingEven though aspects of our lives got put on hold, dating and love didn’t have to be one of them. I started my Conscious Dating and Relationship online coaching program just as lockdowns started, and now more than ever, we need non-judgmental spaces where we can heal and thrive as the women we aspire to be who have the love and relationships we want to have. 

When lockdowns began, I had to cancel a retreat and start teaching all of my yoga classes through Zoom—it was then that I knew my brand new online business was about to be my full-time income, and I went all in! Online coaching is transformative, and I’m also excited to now be hosting in-person local women’s events as well as a Restoration and Yoga Retreat coming up in October.

Stephanie Groves is an Indy-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to Indy Maven.

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