Government, businesses and society have an opportunity like never before to rebuild systems of work that function better for women – if we choose to.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed just how much work we still have to do on gender parity in the workforce. In the labour market, women were hit earlier and harder, and their jobs continue to recover more slowly, with labour force participation in Canada currently at a 20-year low. RBC Economics, Statistics Canada and The Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce have been tracking the data since the pandemic hit last March.
The disproportionate effect on women has even been described as a “she-cession” by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Here are some of their key findings as well as the trends we have seen first-hand in our communities.
- Women tend to work in industries most affected by closures, earning losses and layoffs.
- Women shoulder more of the unpaid work in households such as childcare, elder care, cleaning and cooking and may have had to refuse work or seek a reduction in hours due to escalating responsibilities and shutdowns.
- Women-led businesses tend to be smaller, newer and less well financed than those owned by men.
- Women are more likely to be in temporary, part-time and precarious employment, which typically does not provide sick days, benefits or paid time off.
- Traditional gender norms, mindsets and financial realities have meant that men’s careers have been prioritized throughout the pandemic.
- The longer women are out of the labour force, the greater the risk of skills erosion, network separation and widening of the confidence gap. This will make it harder for women to re-enter at the same level or above as when they left.
As leaders of people, departments and businesses, we have a choice. We can return to our pre-pandemic “business as usual” and settle for the talent we are able to attract with outdated and unequal systems of work.
Or, we can lean into the global shifts in workforce management and technology and build new systems and workplaces. Ones that are more diverse and inclusive and will help us to recover economically, to access the skills we need in this new economy, and to stay agile and competitive on a global scale.
We can no longer do what we have always done and expect the same results. Talent doesn’t want it and women will no longer stand for it. And they no longer need to. The pandemic accelerated trends that benefit women’s access to opportunity, such as increased access to flexible and remote jobs, skills retraining programs and a rise in the gig economy and entrepreneurship. There are better, more rewarding options out there.
“We can no longer do what we have always done and expect the same results.”
So, what do women want? At tellent, we have a network of over 10,000 experienced professional women who tell us through surveys, networking events and open dialogue.
What women say they want next in their career
They want flexibility. Not just accommodation to stay at home while their children self-isolate after a COVID outbreak at school, but trust and autonomy to know where and when they are most productive and can deliver their best work.
“Trust is huge, I need an employer who knows that I will do my best work. I don’t need micromanaging, or someone shadowing my every move. I’m going to get the job done and done well.” – Crystal, 10+ years experience in supply chain and logistics
They want growth in all areas of their lives. In their careers and their non-work interests. To be supported and encouraged by their leaders to be their best self inside and outside of work and to be appreciated for the individual and unique experiences they bring to the table.
“What I know really matters is having a manager/company that wants to talk in detail about what these values of trust, autonomy and flexibility actually look like. Too often those things are promised with good intention but the importance of operationalizing these values into behaviours, detailed agreements, and a shared reality, is ignored.” – Jennifer, 15+ years human resource leadership
They want to make an impact. To know that what they do contributes to something meaningful regardless of their function or role.
“When I work in a company – especially a large/huge/corporate one – I want to know what my boss and team are working on and how it benefits the business, so that I know how my work contributes to the bigger picture. Also, being kept informed about what the bigger picture IS, so that I can think about and possibly suggest additional or improved processes and contributions.” – Martina, 20+ years operational and administrative experience
Diversity of thought and inclusive cultures will be critical to staying competitive in our new economy. Status quo will not bring in the talent you need. Virtually every business was disrupted in some way by the pandemic. New rules are being written on leadership, engagement, productivity – take this opportunity to rewrite rules that work better for everyone.
3 things companies can do right now to support and attract women
- Embrace flexibility and a culture of work-life balance. As we develop our return-to-work plans, ask your employees what they need in terms of flexibility to be their best and most productive self, inside and outside of work. Recruitment Tip: Highlight your flexible work policies directly on your job descriptions.
- Prioritize a culture of belonging. Women often leave jobs because of culture, even when working remotely. Visible leadership support is needed to create a culture where non-inclusive behaviours are unacceptable and people feel comfortable speaking out. Recruitment Tip: Have your leaders speak openly and publicly about what they are doing to enable a culture of belonging for women – including targets and strategies.
- Customize professional development pathways. No two individuals are the same and / or have the same version of success. Take the time to understand what is important to the women who work for you and what their version of success looks like. Recruitment Tip: Have individuals from diverse backgrounds, leadership levels and operational functions share their versions of success and career pathways through a social campaign.
We have an opportunity like never before to re-write the rules and build back a better normal for women and work.
What will you choose to do?