During the 2008 financial crisis, 79% of jobs lost belonged to men, as manufacturing and goods sectors were among the hardest hit. This time around, the numbers are reversed: In March, the first month of lockdown in Canada, 62% of the 1.1 million jobs lost belonged to women.1 When states of emergency were declared across the country, brick and mortar shops and restaurants were forced to close. Service-sector employees and part-time workers — disproportionately women — felt the effects most acutely.

While many women have been laid-off, others are putting in overtime, transitioning to home offices and increasing the share of unpaid work involved in managing their households, especially as schools, daycares and camps remain closed. According to Ingrid Macintosh, executive sponsor of the Women and Wealth Strategy at TD Wealth, the notion that women are expected to be equal earners, but also do the lioness’s share at home has far-reaching consequences.

“The increased burden at home has added an additional six hours to a typical workday,” she says. “Women may be taking this on disproportionately, and it’s creating an unsustainable dynamic that may force women to opt out of the workforce. The damage to the economy and the progress we’ve made, could be devastating.”

As the economy begins to slowly reopen, Macintosh says it’s become clear things need to change at a system-wide level in order to encourage women’s full economic participation. If this is indeed a she-cession, she says, any she-covery will rely on these factors:

1. Flexible work arrangements

Flexibility is the foundation of an inclusive work culture and a central tool to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion. According to Macintosh, it’s what enables women and others who have caregiving responsibilities to fully participate in their work environment and succeed. “We need to move away from a language of accommodation and talk about transformation of the workplace,” says Macintosh. “Research shows that flexibility can increase retention, boost career aspirations and productivity, and decrease absenteeism.” Ideally, we can look back at the COVID-19 experience and take the best learnings and innovation in support of creating a better landscape for women going forward.

2. Psychologically safe environments

While many employers have moved technological mountains to enable their workforces to work from home, Macintosh says employers must also focus on creating safe places for women to share and enlighten each other about the challenges they may still face: “Leaders need to create psychological safe places so that we can truly reach women, engaging in open dialogues to understand what they’re experiencing. As the very infrastructures that have historically supported women in their careers have been removed, we need to ensure we are supporting them in working differently, or that the burden is not too heavy.” If we don’t, she says we risk having women opt out of the workforce.

3. Learning from history

This conversation is not just about improving women’s lives, says Macintosh: We know that the differences in thinking and leadership skills that women bring are vital to the success of organizations and the economy. When looking back on this time, she says, we should ensure that we are observing through the right lens; taking the best lessons surrounding innovation and flexible work arrangements, without measuring the performance of women, and their decisions made, due to the disproportionate pressures they faced during COVID-19. “Organizations and women will both lose if we don’t come out of this stronger and sustain the gains that we’ve made,” says Macintosh.

– Denise O’Connell, MoneyTalk Life

  1. Statistics Canada.  Labour Force Survey. March 2020. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200409/dq200409a-eng.htm. Accesed June 17, 2020