The COVID-19 crisis is having a disproportionate economic impact on women, with women’s labour participation rate falling to its lowest in 30 years. Existing systemic inequalities have been further exacerbated by recent shut-down measures, resulting in what some economists are calling a “she-cession,” as more women have lost their jobs and fewer women than men are re-gaining employment. As schools begin to reopen, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce releases its latest report, The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario. This brief lays out a path to Ontario’s “she-covery” by offering practical recommendations to confront both immediate and longer-term challenges.
“With women’s labour force participation at a record low, decades of progress towards gender equality are at stake,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “This is not only a watershed moment for women but for Ontario’s economy and society more broadly, as women’s participation in the labour market is a precondition to its economic recovery and future prosperity.”
“The economic impacts of the pandemic were direct and immediate for women in Ontario,” said Claudia Dessanti, Senior Policy Analyst of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “Temporary business shutdowns during the state of emergency most severely affected sectors that predominantly employ women. Restrictions on schools and paid child care facilities have shifted additional hours of unpaid family care onto parents, and this work has largely been taken up by mothers. The pandemic experience has been especially challenging for already vulnerable groups, including racialized women, Indigenous women, single mothers, low-income women, newcomers, and women with disabilities.”
“The crisis is far from over for working women. As the economy begins to gradually reopen, women are seeing slower re-employment than men; between April and July, employment gains in Ontario were 158,400 for men and only 95,500 for women,” said Dr. Wendy Cukier, Diversity Institute Founder and Academic Director of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub. “We risk turning back the clock on decades of progress if we do not take a hard look at the challenges facing women and plan for recovery with women at the table and a gender and diversity lens on strategies, programs and policies.”
“Supporting women’s economic empowerment and prosperity is extremely important to our organization, province, and country,” said Heather Ferguson, Senior Vice-President of Corporate Affairs at Ontario Power Generation. “Now more than ever, we need to support women in STEM roles, not only to strengthen our workforce but to also foster a culture of equity and inclusion.”
Major takeaways from the report include:
• Leadership and accountability begin with a commitment from stakeholders to set collective targets, reward diversity, include women in decision-making bodies, and apply a gender and diversity lens to their strategies, policies, and programs for recovery.
• Child care requires a short-term strategy to weather the pandemic and longer-term, system-wide reforms to improve accessibility and affordability.
• Workforce development initiatives should focus on defining critical skills, accelerating women’s reskilling, and ensuring their skills are utilized – with a focus on increasing their participation in skilled trade, technology, and engineering roles in fast-growing sectors.
• Entrepreneurship should be understood as a pathway to economic growth, and an inclusive ecosystem is critical to supporting diverse women entrepreneurs.
• Flexible work arrangements are one way to level the playing field for women and improve organizational outcomes.
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