The COVID-19 pandemic is placing gender equality in Canadian workplaces at grave risk, according to Pamela Jeffery, founder of The Prosperity Project.
“Five months into the pandemic, the warning lights for female participation in the workplace are flashing furiously as progress made toward gender equality over the past 60 years is at risk of vanishing,” Jeffery said in a contribution to The Globe and Mail.
Citing a recent study by the Royal Bank of Canada, Jeffery said that “women’s labour force participation is at its lowest level in three decades. As the economy recovers, women are returning to work at a slower pace than men and are more likely to fall out of the work force over time.”
These issues have a particularly large impact on women of colour, as well as First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women, Jeffery said.
“The problems facing marginalized women were bad before COVID-19; now they are unbearable,” Jeffery said. “Gender equality and the path to prosperity must focus largely on addressing the issues faced by a large majority of women.”
With the gradual reopening of the economy, Jeffery said that industries and governments alike must ensure that the hard-won equality is not lost.
“We call upon employers to set a target to achieve the pre-COVID-19 level of female representation across the entire work force and include this in management performance evaluations,” Jeffery said. “If female representation in corporate headquarters drops precipitously, it is even more likely decisions affecting employees on the front lines will be gender-biased.”
The significant shift in workplaces brought about by the coronavirus outbreak should take into account women’s specific needs, as well.
“Now more than ever, flexible work arrangements must be reconsidered and updated,” Jeffery said. “There are no reasons why more child care spaces cannot be created in our workplaces; it is already proven that this helps keep women in the work force. Gender bias cannot be allowed to creep into conversations about who is invited back into the workplace versus who continues to work remotely.”