During the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of women lost their jobs because of how it impacted the service sector and other public-facing jobs, with Statistics Canada reporting that between March 2020 and February 2021, women accounted for 53.7 per cent of jobs lost.
According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s “She-Covery Project,” women aged 25-54 lost more than twice as many jobs as men during the pandemic. And between April and August of last year, women only gained 131,700 jobs compared to 200,200 jobs for men.
Armine Yalnizyan is an economist and the Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers. Considering the looming threat of a fourth wave and the restrictions that could accompany it, last year she predicted that “poverty is going to deepen, particularly for women,” at a “galloping rate,” in an interview with the Windsor Star. Added to this is the fact women are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 as many of them work in industries like healthcare and hospitality.
All of this will represents a serious hit to the economy and an even bigger financial setback for women.
A 2017 report by McKinsey and Company estimated that by 2026, Canada could add $150 billion to its annual GDP by supporting women’s participation in the workforce. The report called for a national social innovation strategy as well as creating the necessary infrastructure and providing funding.
That’s why greater inclusion of women in the workforce is essential to Canada’s pandemic recovery and economic growth.
But they need to be supported.
Systemic Barriers to Accessing Capital
Women account for 38 per cent of self-employed Canadians, and according to the She-Covery Project, 61 per cent of female entrepreneurs reported losing contracts, customers and clients because of the pandemic. Female entrepreneurs also often cite an inability to access funding, networking or mentorship as their biggest obstacles.
According to Crunchbase News, last year, only 2.3 per cent of venture capital went to female-led companies, and less than one per cent went to companies run by racialized people.
To bridge this gap, The Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) has created the Business Advisory Implementation Development Service (BAIDS) program, which is tailored specifically to the Black business community. Many Black businesses are in industries hit hardest by the pandemic like retail, food service, health and beauty.
BBPA president, Nadine Spencer, says programs like BAIDS help Black entrepreneurs address some of the systemic challenges that have impeded their success.
“The biggest challenge for some of the businesses is they don’t trust the various institutions because they haven’t been supported in the past,” she told New Canadian Media in a previous interview.
Spencer noted that for some entrepreneurs, the way their businesses are structured or operate makes it difficult for them to get loans from governments and financial institutions. Self-financing and paying employees in cash or as subcontracts, she said, are some of the common practices that may limit them. Spencer explained that part of the program involves educating entrepreneurs about successful business models to prepare them for the future.
“We’re looking at the issue and working with them so if something else comes up, they are better prepared, even in terms of addressing systemic barriers,” she said. “Now they have the information and the tools, and they’re more aware.”
Suraj Gupta, the co-founder of Rogue Insight Capital and the CIO of The Gupta Group, also believes Canada’s diversity is “our greatest natural resource” but says not enough is being done to take advantage of that. He says if more women and people of colour were supported in their entrepreneurial endeavours, it would greatly benefit Canada.
“You can have entire regions and economies fail if you don’t adequately empower 92 per cent of the population,” he told NCM, citing the percentage of people in North America that are women, immigrants or people-of-colour. “I think that we could easily become a world leader in innovation if we didn’t just support 8 percent of the population.”
Supporting Working Women
According to an analysis produced by RBC, nearly 100,000 working-age women have left the labour market since the pandemic started, meaning they’ve stopped looking for jobs. The exodus of women from the workforce has serious long-term and short-term implications, including financial difficulty because of loss of income but also letting important jobs skills deteriorate.
“The longer women are out of the workforce, the harder it is for them to get back in, and you can’t catch up,” said Jennifer Reynolds, president and CEO of Toronto Finance International. “Those wages never get caught up.”
Lack of affordable childcare also often hampers women’s career trajectory. The problem is compounded when the women belong to other marginalized groups. Due to gender norms and the wage gap, women are often forced to put their careers on hold to take on more domestic roles.
“With women’s labour force participation at a record low, decades of progress towards gender equality are at stake,” Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, stated in a press release.
When the Federal Liberal Party released its spring budget, it pledged $30 billion over the next five years to create a $10-a-day national childcare program. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants a 50 percent reduction in average fees for early learning and childcare by the end of 2022. Several provinces and territories have already agreed to the program, but with an election called recently, those deals remain tentative. Quebec already has its own subsidized childcare program.
Some of the other federal political leaders have addressed the issues of the so-called ‘She-Cession’ and inaccessible childcare in their election platforms.
Federal Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said he would scrap Trudeau’s childcare funding plans in favour of initiating a refundable tax credit of between $4,560 and $6,000 for parents. Meanwhile, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh committed to providing $10-a-day universal child care. At this time, the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois have not released their childcare plans.