Executive Director, Canada, Catalyst
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on women in the workplace, particularly women of colour. Business leaders must take action.
Between February and October 2020, more than 20,000 women in Canada dropped out of the labour force. Meanwhile, nearly 68,000 men joined the labour force during that same period. What’s behind this unequal economic recovery?
One reason is that women are overrepresented in front-line industries hit hardest by the pandemic: hospitality, retail, and service. Women of colour are disproportionately impacted. In November 2020, the unemployment rate for minority women in Canada was 10.5%, compared to 6.2% for white women.
Another reason is that women bear a disproportionate share of caretaking responsibilities at home. These stressful scenarios have led many women to experience fatigue, burnout, and mental health issues. One survey of Canadian mothers from August 2020 found that a third of respondents had considered leaving their jobs because of the pandemic.
The consequences of this crisis could set women back decades and reverse many of the important gains that women have made in workplace gender equity.
What leaders can do
- Leaders have an important role to play in retaining and supporting women employees in the post-COVID-19 economy. First, they need to implement flexible work policies. Flexibility in when, where, and how work gets done can increase both productivity and job satisfaction. This fact is true both for women working remote and in person.
- Leaders should model empathy. Working parents, particularly mothers, are struggling with a lack of childcare in addition to the dual responsibilities of remote work and virtual schooling. Leaders should pay attention to how employees are doing, notice who may be getting lost in the virtual shuffle, and ensure that everyone feels seen and heard.
- And finally, leaders must take action to mitigate the pandemic’s disparate impact on women of colour. Start by listening to your women of colour employees and addressing the unique barriers to inclusion and advancement that these women face.
The research is clear that more women in the workplace benefits everyone. We must #ChoosetoChallenge inequity whenever we see it and make our own efforts to #BiasCorrect our workplaces. Most importantly — nearly a year after the pandemic first hit the Canadian economy and as we move forward to the future of work — leaders must ensure that women aren’t left behind.