The economic impact of the pandemic has often been referred to as a ‘she-session.’ Recognizing that financial decline and job losses have impacted women more than men during this unprecedented time.
On top of this, layoffs have hit industries dominated by female employees. This includes the restaurant sector, hospitality, recreation and food services. Added to this with on-and-off closures of schools and daycares, working moms have being doing double duty at the home and the office. As a result, many have dropped out of the workforce or reduced their hours to free up time to manage the pressures at home.
Recent reports from RBC Economics say women have paid a heavier price than men during the pandemic-induced economic slowdown. They point to the fact that in the weeks after the pandemic was declared, the shutdowns due to COVID-19 rolled back the clock on three decades of advances in women’s labour-force participation.
Claudia Dessanti is with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) and the author of the report “The She-Covery Project.” The term ‘she-covery’ like she-session focuses on women and work. The report looks at the gendered economic impact of COVID-19.
“I think it’s a catchy way of saying women’s economic recovery. In this case, we’re talking about recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. If you look at the data, it’s very clear that women have been disproportionately impacted from short term job losses, but also longer term ones,” Dessanti says.
For that reason she says her and the OCC say the economic recovery has to focus on the needs of working women. This includes access to childcare and flexible hours.
Dessanti points to the RBC report that shows that 100,000 women have dropped out of the workforce all together. This rate is ten times that of men who have left the workforce permanently. A she-covery focus addresses this situation.
Now, with the arrival of vaccines, the return to normal seems closer. But without women the economic recovery will take longer.
“From the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s perspective, it’s not just a women’s issue, but an economic one, because I think it’s really important to understand that this is not just a social and moral imperative. But also, there’s a business case for making sure that women‘s recovery is front and center,” Dessanti says.
The OCC finds in March 2020 women between the ages of 25 and 54 lost more than twice as many jobs as men in Ontario. On top of this as the economy slowly reopened in the summer, women have seen slower reemployment than men.
Working mom Pia Ganguli had a feeling of hopelessness when the pandemic hit. Ganguli says she was only a few months into running her own recruitment business, called Hour Consulting. She says the pandemic and the shutdown dealt a major setback to her business.
Ganguli says her partner works full time as well. With a one year old son at home her efforts to keep her business going were not working. She says, something had to give, so she made the sacrifice to step back from her career.
“I couldn’t do it. Even if I tried on nights to get some work done it was just so exhausting that I couldn’t perform at the level I wanted to. It was really tough to make that decision, to stop working. But I had to take care of my son,” Ganguli confesses.
As a working mom with a small child says she can relate to the OCC report about the need for a she-covery. She believes there are many women who had to make the choices she did.
Mom of two Kate Teves is another working mom affected by the COVID-19 shutdowns. Like Ganguli she had just pivoted in her career too, starting a resume writing business right before the pandemic hit.
She says this has been a turbulent time for her. As she has been managing her kids at home along with learning how to run a new business.
“As soon as I have, a little bit of time, I will start learning something news. Like how do I do my own marketing? How do I do my own invoicing? How do I do my own everything,” Teves says.
Teves says women like her need support to keep going now, and after the pandemic is over.
“It’s a juggle, regardless of whether you’re running your own business or working for somebody else. It really makes no difference, because the responsibilities really never go away. We still have to make sure the household chores are done. Kids need clothes, laundry needs to be done. The house needs to be cleaned, sometimes at least and children need to be cared for,” says Teves.
The OCC says the biggest most important piece for working mother to return to the workforce is access to affordable child care. Recently the Federal Government reiterated its promise to establish a nationalised child care program, but that won’t happen until 2026.
The OCC says we need solutions now.
“We need affordable and accessible childcare, we need programs and policies that enable women to participate in traditionally male dominated sectors. We need re-skilling for women, we need more inclusive business supports. And these are all interconnected. But at a high level, we really just need a strategy that focuses on women that brings all of these components together.”
The Bank of Canada recently predicted better than expected growth for 2021 and 2022. Dessanti says that can only happen with the help of women and a she-covery focus.