Study sheds light on COVID-19 barriers women face when returning to work
SASKATOON -- A new report is shining light on the disproportionate barriers some women face when returning to work. The report is a collaboration between the Canadian Women's Foundation, the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, the Ontario Nonprofit Network and Faye Faraday. Ann Decter from The Canadian Women’s Foundation joined CTV Morning Live Anchor Stephanie Massicotte to dive deeper into its findings and recommendations.
Tell us more about this collaboration and the paper that came out of it?
The paper is part of a series we're doing called Resetting Normal, which is aimed at looking at the gender impacts of the pandemic and also the government's pandemic response, and where we need to go to make sure that we don't slip backwards on gender equality so we continue to advance the gains women have made over time. This particular paper looked at women in the workforce. As you know, a lot of women work in the care economy so it also looked at the state of Canada's fractured care economy.
So how much of the workforce is made up of women?
Coming into the pandemic it was roughly even, around half and half. Sometimes women make up 47 or 48 per cent, but roughly the workforce is evenly split men and women, and that's been a long, slow change over 30 or 40 years. It’s been a very slow rising progression to get there.
Now as we slowly start to reopen and businesses start to open back up, what are some of the barriers women are facing when returning to work?
The biggest barriers really seem to be that women continue to do more than their share of work in the household. And then in that situation, the uncertainty of access to childcare and the uncertainty about what's happening to schools is pushing women out of the workforce in a sense. Many women will let go of their search for labour faster than men, because the household responsibilities tend to fall their way faster.
We saw a number of layoffs during this pandemic but when it comes to women and the sectors that they work in, whichhave been the hardest hit?
Well certainly, retail and service work have been the hardest hit. We talk about women being concentrated in the Five Cs, two of those being cashiering, so retail, and catering, so food and accommodation work. Both sectors have been very slow to come back in most places and so the uncertainty around what level they will come back to again leaves women out of the workforce and then some of them lean towards drifting out of looking for work entirely.
So what are some of the suggestions coming out of this paper?
Well, we really think it's a moment for the government to step up on ensuring there's a national system of childcare. So right now, we don't have a childcare system, we have parents who have kids and then they look for childcare, so it's really up to the parent to find where to go. It's an opportune moment to increase expenditures in that area, get women back to work, keep women in the workforce and increase GDP nationally because that's what happens when women are working.
What about businesses themselves? What can they do to ensure you know we maintain this 50/50 split.
Well I guess, flexibility around childcare arrangements. Some things that are really important to women in the workforce is paid leave, the federal government has announced they know they're going to support 10 days paid leave for some time. You know, in the care sector we really need to see those jobs become decent jobs so we're talking about childcare, we're talking about personal support workers in long term care.
We need those to be full time well paid jobs with the kind of benefits that make you feel safe at work so women are able to continue working there, and not be in situations where they're worried about bringing COVID home to the family or feeling they have to go into work when they're sick, because they can't afford to take the time off. So, a lot of those jobs have become precarious part time across the country we have workers moving from one care centre to another to put together a full time work schedule and we know that 80 to 90 per cent of those workers are women.
As you're mentioning all these sectors, a lot of them are considered essential during this pandemic, do you think this is going to shine a light on how important these positions are and how needed they are?
We really hope so, I mean that's what we've been pushing for, you can see how the pandemic shows where the economy is fragile, where we don't have services where they need to be to really protect Canadians, and in a lot of those places is women working in precarious, low paid and unsafe jobs. A third of women are working in jobs where it's the highest rate of possibly contacting COVID and I should mention that a lot of those women are racialized women and immigrant women across the country.