COVID-19 triggered massive decline of women in Ontario workforce, report says

Three women A new report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce says women in the labour force has decline drastically due to COVID-19 pandemic. Photo credit: Dani Hart

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has published a recovery recommendation plan called the She-Covery Project in an effort to stop the massive decline of women in the labour force.

It says the number of female workers in Ontario is at its lowest level in 30 years and is another impact the province faces following the COVID-19 shutdown.

In March, women between the ages of 25 and 54 lost more than twice as many jobs as men in Ontario. Although companies have been gradually reopening and rehiring, the employment gains for men during that time were 200,200 but only 131,700 for women.

The data comes from a brief OCC published called The She-Covery Project Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario. It outlines gender-related economic challenges Ontario currently faces and offers policy solutions to remedy both short and long-term impacts. The report says “decades of progress towards gender equality are at stake.”

The OCC also noted that “this is not only a watershed moment for women but for Ontario’s economy and society more broadly, as women’s participation in the labour market is a precondition to its fulsome economic recovery and prosperity.”

The OCC is a business advocacy group that lobbied for business priorities at the provincial level on behalf of its network’s 60,000 members.

The OCC’s brief says the COVID-19 global pandemic has disproportionately impacted women in three major ways. Shutdowns and layoffs affected more fields that employ women. Business sectors with higher numbers of female entrepreneurs were also hit harder. Finally, with schools and child care facilities closed, many women had to re-prioritize. They had to respond fast to increased demands on the homefront.

The pandemic has also exacerbated existing inequalities among women. The OCC report shows that specific groups have experienced more challenges than others. They include racialized women, indigenous women, single mothers, low-income women, immigrant women, women with disabilities, and women who live in rural areas.

The long-term impacts of COVID-19 on women in the workforce are still unknown, however, the OCC suggests that following the steps it lays out in its She-Covery Project brief will help mitigate major issues down the road.

The plan lays out provincial and federal strategies for key decision-makers whose mandates impact five dimensions that relate to women in the workforce. The areas of focus are: Leadership, child care, workforce development, entrepreneurship, and flexible work.

Prior to COVID-19, significant strides had been made to equalize gender numbers in Ontario’s labour force. Between 1976 and 2019, the gap between employed men and women had narrowed from a 39 per cent disparity to 9 per cent.

These numbers once made the future look promising. A 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, while the Royal Bank of Canada’s projected $100 billion. Yet, if the current challenges are not remedied, this trajectory is unlikely to happen.

The OCC concludes its brief with a word of caution. “Whether the pandemic will set back
workplace diversity or accelerate it will depend almost entirely on how decision-makers in
both the public and private sectors approach economic recovery.”

The reccommended solutions outlined in the report are suggested to not simply support women but to build towards a stronger economy for all that is better than it was before the pandemic.

Learn More:

Read the full brief at: The She-Covery Project Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario.