Achieving gender equality, especially in the workplace, has been an ongoing process. Though women’s progress in the workplace has slowly moved forward a few steps, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed that backwards at an alarming pace. What can we do to get back on track?
Statistics on Canada’s women workforce post-pandemic
It has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit us, and as we navigate our new normal, we are noticing new challenges arising in the workplace. The COVID-19 crisis has caused a gender-regressive workplace scenario, meaning that women's participation in the workplace has deteriorated significantly. Over the last generation in the pre-pandemic era, we had seen a surge of women in the workforce, and it was forecasted only to climb from there. However, women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and their economic security is now at risk due to what some are calling the “she-cession.”
Throughout 2020 as people regained employment, women continued to fall out of the labour force, while men continue to join. Women accounted for 64 percent of the increase in the number of those who have permanently lost their jobs and are not looking for work, while men represented an increase in the labour force by 68,000. Women’s participation levels are affected by several factors, including industry recovery, family care responsibilities, and uneven income distribution in households.
The impact was direct and immediate for women: their participation in the labour force hit a record 30-year low, with more than 1.5 million women losing their jobs due to pandemic-related restrictions and closures. These extraordinary losses partially occurred because the hospitality, personal care services, retail, and travel and accommodations sectors typically employ women at higher rates and were the sectors that suffered the most significant economic hit from limited operations and shutdowns.
Why is it a challenge?
Those in industries affected by shutdowns may never return to their jobs or only be brought back for part-time work. The changing landscape of childcare and education is forcing parents to stay home, and the onus is still typically on women to take care of the family. Working women with family responsibilities are also more likely to fall out of the workforce. Although the gender wage gap is shrinking, Statistics Canada reports that women on average earn about 13 percent less than men. This could result in a disproportionate balance of household income and a key factor for deciding who will continue to work.
It is also important to highlight that there has been an economic recession in the past that resulted in more men losing jobs than women. However, the pandemic’s direct impact on the women-dominated work industries has led to this unique challenge. The impact of COVID-19 is expected to be long-lasting, and companies need to adapt to the arising challenges and work to create a supportive environment for women.
What can employers do?
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