Canadian women have long suffered the professional and financial consequences of COVID-19, but new research indicates that this impact could be long-lasting.
According to a study published by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) on Thursday, almost half a million women that had lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic have been unable to re-enter the workforce as of January.
Women of colour, immigrants, young professionals, new mothers, and those working in hard-hit industries like hospitality and food services are at a higher risk of experiencing job loss, RBC economists Dawn Desjardins and Carrie Freestone said.
Gen Z women, for instance, made up for 17% of the total decline in employment between February 2020 and January 2021, while only accounting for 2.5% of the Canadian workforce.
However, as COVID-19 continues to alter the fabric of society and the way businesses operate — many companies have been forced to close, downsize, or undergo some form of transition due to the pandemic — experts argue that women could be pushed out of the workforce permanently.
In particular, companies that have learned to rely on understaffed teams may not be incentivized to re-hire in the future, causing certain jobs to be scrapped altogether, according to the report.
Desjardins added that staying out of the labour market for too long could have a “scarring effect” on women’s skill sets and hamper their ability to land a job in a rapidly changing work environment in which digital technologies and informal networking both play a crucial role.
“There could be changes underway that are more structural in nature, that are going to be more long-lasting,” Desjardins told CBC. “The longer you're out, the harder it is sometimes to get back into those networks — to hear this place is happening or these are the jobs that are in demand.”
A similar trend can be observed in other countries, such as the US, the UK, and Australia, where women have borne the brunt of the pandemic.
To help rebalance the scales, the Canadian government has introduced a series of relief measures, both at the provincial and federal levels.
These include an allocation of $1.5 billion to help provinces map out training and skill-sharing programs, as well financial support to Canadians who are directly impacted by COVID-19 through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) subsidy.
For unemployed women like Jerty Gaa, a former hotel employee from Vancouver who spoke to CBC, these initiatives are helpful — but preemptive measures would be far more ideal.
In the long run, experts contend that including women in recovery plans and ensuring that they are able to return to work would not only lift them out of poverty but would also benefit the Canadian economy as a whole.
According to Desjardins, a whopping $110 billion could be added to the Canadian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year if men and women were to be equally represented in the labour market.
With Canada’s GDP seemingly reaching all-time low levels in 2020, the need for women to be part of the COVID-19 response has never been more evident.
“Enabling this process won’t only benefit the displaced workers,” Desjardins said. “Ultimately, Canada’s overall economic health depends on the broadest possible recovery.”