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Miscellaneous: 11 May 2020
As discussions of timelines and motivations for Canadians to return to work post COVID-19 erupt in the political sphere, it has become clear that a fundamental shift in economic inclusion for women is in order.
Work restructuring creates an opportunity to empower women to thrive
Canadian workplaces and political institutions have adapted swiftly in ways naysayers said could not be done. Kludge solutions as they may be, flexible work is here to stay.
There is an opportunity to return differently, with a deeper understanding of the care imbalance and flexibility necessary to empower women to thrive.
Julia Robarts, engagement manager and mother of two, has been working flexibly for seven years now in Odgers Berndtson’s Toronto office. Robarts is optimistic about this turning point in the future of work, “An impact out of the quarantine will absolutely be a greater acceptance that people can manage their own schedule without being visible.”
This isn’t a discussion about getting Canada’s economy back on track, but rather laying a new track that is better suited for the unique challenges faced by women.
Robarts notes that organizations have an opportunity to reflect on their current practices and be proactive in offering creative and flexible work arrangements. “If we are rebuilding, we might as well build it better.”
There are many reasons a person might seek work flexibility. Disability and mental health advocates have long spoken out about the need for workplaces to study and standardize flexible work options.
More widespread flexible work, coupled with safe, affordable and accessible child care, will go a long way in changing the course of Canada’s economic history toward inclusion.
If we are ever going to actually address the gender pay gap, rather than expecting women to shape-shift in order to fit themselves in to work environments that were never built for their success in the first place, we need to rethink our models.
This is important for the Black mother balancing her work with her school board advocacy, the Indigenous mother managing the safety of her family through spring flood warnings, and the newcomer mother painstakingly facilitating culturally sensitive care for her aging parents.
Today, Canadians are feeling a refreshed appreciation for the value of care work and are recalibrating the ways in which we protect and compensate care workers. The COVID-19 crisis has widened the already disproportionate gap in care responsibilities held by women.
In a 2017 interview describing her motivation for co-founding the U.K.-based flexible work agency Timewise, Karen Mattison nailed the issue at hand: “There are hundreds of thousands of women at all levels of the job market who are skilled, experienced and ambitions, but who are given this impossible choice between their career progression and their families. [ ...] Not only are we women staring at a glass ceiling, but there’s the sticky floor of the lack of flexibility in our careers as we progress.”
Where the federal government is likely to promote stimulus packages with a heavy emphasis on infrastructure investments, it is important that we address the barriers to access acknowledging the importance of care work, most often done by women within the industries we center in the economic reboot.
According to a recent labour force survey conducted by Statistics Canada, the group most negatively impacted during this unemployment wave is women aged 18 to 24, who saw employment fall by 38 per cent. This same group, if empowered proactively, holds the key to unlocking Canada’s long-term economic growth.
In this economic reconstruction, I subscribe to Mattison’s vision of utopia: “It would be absolutely transformative if we could change the way we design jobs to allow people the space to nurture their children or older relatives, or to find fulfilment in other aspects of their lives in order to keep healthy mentally and physically. And I think it’s possible, if employers can focus on output and how best to facilitate that, rather than how many hours their employees are at their desks.”
This country only comes back stronger if we do this part right, with an acceptance and willingness to move women through the ranks flexibly, at all levels.
We’ve come too far to see a backsliding on any progress won for women on any front.
Tiffany GoochContributing Columnist-The Record/Twitter/AA
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