Economic impacts of pandemic disproportionately affect women: report

By Chad Ingram

The negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affect women, according to a new report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. 

The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario makes a series of recommendations to the provincial and federal governments to help address this gap.  

“The economic impacts of the pandemic were direct and immediate for women in Ontario,” Andrea Strano, president of the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce, said in a release. “Shutdowns during the emergency most severely affected the women in our community and across the province.” 

The report highlights four reasons why the negative economic consequences of the pandemic have been more acutely felt by women. 

“First, temporary business shutdowns and layoffs during the state of emergency most severely affected occupations and sectors that predominantly employ women,” it reads. “Second, these sectors are those in which women entrepreneurs are more likely to operate, and their businesses tend to be newer, smaller, and less well-financed than those owned by men. Third, restrictions on schools and paid child care facilities have shifted additional hours of unpaid family care onto parents, and this work has largely been taken up by mothers. Fourth, while women are dominating the frontline responses to the COVID pandemic, they have not been included in the planning for recovery.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Ontario in mid-March. A graph contained in the report shows that between February and the end of March, while approximately 70,000 men in Ontario had lost their jobs, that figure was about double for women, with approximately 140,000 jobs lost. Job loss figures were the worst in May, with approximately 250,000 job losses for men and 300,000 for women. As of the end of the August, the figures were about 60,000 job losses for men since February, and approximately 160,000 for women. 

“A primary reason for this job loss disparity is that the occupations and sectors in which women are more likely to be employed were among those most impacted by emergency orders (including retail, food and accommodations, arts and recreation, social services, and other service industries that involve face-to-face contact). This differs notably from the 2008 financial crisis, during which job losses were more pronounced in male-dominated sectors such as manufacturing and construction, and during which only 18 per cent of jobs lost in Canada were held by women.” 

Moreover, the report indicates that racialized women have been the most affected by job losses. 

“The impact has been more acute for women from minority backgrounds. COVID-19-related job losses have been highest among racialized women, particularly Asian and Black women, as well as younger and lower-income women,” it reads. “Single mothers, Indigenous women, immigrant women, women with disabilities, rural women, transgender-identifying women, and other intersectional groups tend to also be experiencing greater financial consequences than most Ontarians.” 

A summary of recommendations divides those recommendations into five areas: leadership and accountability; child care; workforce development; entrepreneurship; and flexibility. 

Under leadership and accountability, recommendations include that the provincial government launch a campaign that targets women’s economic recovery, and that both levels of government use procurement to incentivize diversity and inclusion. This latter recommendation includes introducing a diversity component to the procurement process, setting targets and tracking them over time, and encouraging governments and corporations to incorporate women and diverse entrepreneurs into their supply chains. Another recommendation is to include women in all decision-making bodies associated with economic recovery from the crisis. 

“Progress on gender equity starts with a commitment at the top,” the report reads. “In the coming weeks and months, governments and employers will continue to duly convene a series of task forces, committees, and advisory groups focused on strategizing about Ontario’s economic recovery. Each of these decision-making bodies should both contain women and recognize the economic and social importance of advancing women’s workforce participation in the post-pandemic era.” 

On child care, the report recommends the provincial and federal governments prepare for a second wave of the virus. This includes developing a plan to rapidly increase spacing and staff to accommodate physical distancing, earmarking funding for second-wave scenario and enhancing resources for parents to help their children with remote learning. 

Other recommendations around child care include improving its affordability and accessibility, addressing a shortage of early childhood educators, and exploring other solutions such as workplace-based child care. 

“Another critical dimension to the crisis is child care,” the report reads. “The closure of schools and daycare centres left parents with no choice but to assume child care and homeschooling responsibilities themselves, particularly as physical distancing guidelines limited their ability to rely on extended families. In Ontario, only five percent of families used child care services from March to June. Many families also assumed care of the elderly as they removed loved ones from long-term care facilities.” 

On workplace development, the report contains a number of recommendations aimed at skills training for women, and increasing representation in the skilled trades, engineering, technology and other traditionally male-dominated sectors. On entrepreneurship, the report recommends both levels of government foster an inclusive environment for women and diverse business owners by addressing barriers and supporting women-led businesses with financing, legal advice, financial literacy, digital literacy, and access to mentorship programs and networking opportunities. 

On flexible work, the report recommends both levels of government consider policy options that encourage more employers to offer flexible work arrangements for employees. 

“Flexible work should be championed as a solution that benefits the workforce at large, not just women,” the report reads. “These practices have been shown to improve companies’ innovation outcomes while reducing turnover intention among employees. Governments and communities also benefit from reduced congestion and pressure on transportation infrastructure.”