Women, particularly Indigenous and racialized women, have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 economic recession.
Women make up the majority of workers in lower-paid, part-time and precarious work. When child care centres closed and schools went online, women left their jobs to care for their children. They were also more likely to take unpaid sick time to care for children and relatives. And when Canada was hit with record numbers of job losses, these losses impacted precarious, low-wage workers — in other words, women — the most.
As we move towards Step 4 of B.C.’s reopening plan, economic recovery is top of mind for the provincial government, with consultations underway for B.C.’s economic plan and the 2022 budget. In order to reverse the recession created by COVID-19, decision-makers need to address our economy’s deepening gender, racial and income inequities.
In short: if we want Canada’s economy to recover — and if we want it to recover equitably — women’s re-entry into the workforce needs to become a political priority for all parties, governments and regions.
If women of diverse ages and races are allowed to fully participate and become leaders in Canada’s workforce, it could add to our economy by as much as $150 billion by 2026.
To achieve this, we need to address the entrenched discrimination that still exists in the workplace, like the “motherhood penalty” and the gender pay gap. We can do this by strengthening and enforcing pay equity legislation, including legislating pay transparency, promoting broader and more flexible parental leave policies and requiring employers to develop action plans to close gaps in gender and race representation at leadership levels.
Instead of expecting women to return to the low-paying jobs and uncertain employment they left during the pandemic, the best way forward is to provide better supports for women to enter B.C.’s growing sectors like the trades, tech and clean energy.
In the tech sector alone, it is estimated that B.C. has a shortfall of more than 30,000 skilled workers, the people with the knowledge, training and expertise to enter the field. Occupational skills training, investments in foreign credentialling and employment programs that fast-track skilled women immigrants will stimulate economic activity and generate tax revenues. To work, these programs will also need to reflect the realities of women’s lives by including paid sick leave and grants for child care and transportation.
The culture surrounding these professions also needs to change in order to retain women and underrepresented groups, such as Indigenous and racialized people. This means working with traditionally male-dominated sectors to ensure they strengthen workers’ voices in the workplace, provide decent pay and afford time for leisure, family and community participation.
In addition, women who do return to working low-wage jobs like serving and retail should have access to paid statutory holidays, paid sick time and family leave, and extended health benefits.
We’ve known since the early days of the pandemic that women, particularly Indigenous and racialized women, have been disproportionately affected by COVID and the recession it caused. More than a year later, low-wage employees continue to experience a slow recovery in B.C. while their jobs remain vulnerable in the face of potential future waves of the virus.
At YWCA Metro Vancouver, we support mothers who are juggling multiple part-time jobs without flexible or affordable child care or safe, affordable housing. Notably, half of B.C.’s working single parents with children under six lost their jobs or had their hours cut during the pandemic, and mothers saw more impact on their work than fathers. What we hear from these moms is the need for more safe, affordable and adequate housing and access to affordable, quality early learning and child care.
Our economy can never be its most prosperous if it is leaving people behind. Racial equity, gender equity and wage equity are pressing issues that have only become more pressing under COVID.
This is our opportunity to build a just and equitable economy that works for everyone. The moment for significant investments and bold action is now.