The list of changes brought on by COVID-19 is long, and includes things like preparedness for future pandemics, improved education systems and an overhaul of eldercare infrastructure. All are undoubtedly overdue. But other, more subtle, changes have sadly reversed the clock on progress.
As women take on significantly more unpaid labour in the form of household chores, childcare and eldercare, they often do so at the expense of their careers, businesses and retirement plans. While these setbacks are unfortunate, they are fixable.
Paying the price for unpaid labour
Global data from UN Women reports that 25 years of increasing gender equality could be wiped out by COVID-19. The numbers were not encouraging to begin with. Before the pandemic, it was estimated that for every hour of unpaid work done by men in the world, three hours were done by women. That number has worsened since the pandemic began. Thankfully, in Canada, the ratio was lower with one hour of household work done by men for every one and a half hours completed by women. Still, 50% more household work by one gender versus the other would be considered significant to most. To have that number intensified is an unwelcome offshoot of the pandemic.
Of course, mothers are having more difficulty keeping up with their jobs than their peers as mass closures of schools and daycare has expanded the work required in the home for both parents. A McKinsey and Lean In Study conducted in 2020 in the U.S. shows that among parents in dual-career couples, mothers are 1.5 times more likely than fathers to spend an additional 3+ hours per day on household work compared to before COVID-19. That adds up to 15 hours per week, when there was no spare time to begin with. This, undoubtedly, has exacerbated burnout and increased concerns that their performance is being judged negatively.
Canadian numbers reflect similar stresses with one-third of working mothers in Canada reported to have thought about quitting their jobs according to Pollara Strategic Insights.
With pay raises and promotions on hold as women work less in order to help their kids with school work, many believe the COVID-19 outbreak is hurting their careers.
The not-so-sweet side of the C-suite
Women in more senior roles are confronting their own increased pressure. 54% of C-suite women cite feeling constantly exhausted and 47% feel the need to always be available, which explains why the study also reveals one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether due to COVID-19.
Due to the gender pay gap in Canada, the pandemic has caused many women of childbearing age to leave their jobs and care for family so that their higher-income-earning spouses can retain work. An RBC Economics Report shows that between February and October of 2020, 20,600 Canadian women fell out of the labour force while nearly 68,000 men joined. Women’s participation in the labour force is down from historic highs to its lowest level in more than 30 years.
Bad news for business owners
Female business owners are also suffering as a result of the same pressures. A study by FreshBooks reveals that women-owned businesses are taking nearly twice as long to recover from the pandemic as companies owned by men. Some of the reasons are that female-owned businesses tend to be newer and smaller. It’s also been observed that female entrepreneurs have been less likely than men to access the federal wage subsidy.
Changes in retirement planning
With women downgrading or leaving their jobs, or struggling to keep their businesses alive, it’s no wonder there are big changes afoot when it comes to retirement plans. A CIBC survey found that men and women alike are worried, with 40% concerned about the effect of COVID-19 on their savings and retirement plans, and 23% unable to contribute to their retirement savings since the pandemic began. The same survey indicates that 30% of Canadians also feel they will have to work longer as a result of the pandemic, and that 32% will travel less than planned or not at all.
Pre-existing factors indicate that, on average, women will be thrown further behind than men when it comes to post-pandemic retirement. First, women live longer than men, so on that basis alone, they need more money for retirement. The CIBC survey also points out that a higher number of men, 68%, say they feel confident about managing investments in retirement compared to women at 57%. Women have a greater need, with less confidence and fewer assets to begin with.
As vaccinations roll out across the country, the prospect of some level of normality is on the horizon. This development brings new opportunities for restoring gender equality, and possibly raising the bar even higher.
For women who are thinking of leaving their jobs, it could be the perfect time to consider switching vocations. Why not review your options with an executive coach? The Ivey Academy offers advice on choosing one.
If you’re a business owner, consider joining the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. They can answer your COVID-19-related questions, and tell you what relief measures the government has put in place to help your business. Whether you use this group or some other network, having the support of other professionals can not only help you get on your feet again, but also better position your business to hold up under future unforeseen circumstances.
Finally, if you’re struggling with retirement planning setbacks, talk with a financial advisor about making portfolio changes or adjusting your financial plan to make up for any loss of income. You can also find out more from websites that offer female-specific information, like Financial Planning for Canadians.
There are many resources available to help women get back on track with their finances and professional pursuits, so that they can reclaim their tremendous contribution to the workforce. So gather your strength, ladies, and as Nora Ephron once said, “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
Terri Carson is a marketing and digital strategist, and a fan of life online. Find out more about her on LinkedIn.
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