How entrepreneurs are creating a pandemic ‘She-covery plan’ to get women back in the workforce

Leigh Mitchell has had a first-hand look at how the pandemic has squashed women’s career opportunities.

As founder of the mentorship group Women in Biz, Mitchell has heard from entrepreneurs whose business has dried up, service sector employees who’ve been laid off and professionals who’ve been so overwhelmed they’ve ultimately taken leaves of absence.   

“We’re losing a lot of role models, which is unfortunate,” said Mitchell, who lives in Toronto.

A report released in May by Statistics Canada noted that women accounted for 53.7 per cent of year-over-year job losses between March 2020 and February 2021, due in part to the high number of women working in the service sector.

As of March this year, an RBC analysis found nearly 100,000 working-age Canadian women had left the workforce since the pandemic started, meaning they had stopped trying to find a job. 

Mitchell is trying to even the playing field, at least for some. She, along with colleagues Sue Christensen and Verity Dimmock, of the business My Career Launch, have developed what they call a “She-covery” plan. They’re offering free job search strategy sessions to 100 women, and access to a vetted career board for women looking to re-enter the workforce.

Christensen, who lost her job during the pandemic herself, hopes to help women regain confidence and find meaningful work.

“We need women to actually be taking those leadership roles. We need women to be taking those creative roles, whatever the role may be, because we need balance,” said Christensen. 

Karoline Bourdeau is a trained mediator. (Richard Bourdeau)

Karoline Bourdeau told CBC Toronto she plans to take them up on the offer. Bourdeau, a trained mediator who is visually impaired, has been looking for work in her field since a previous contract ended in the spring. She said searching for a job was tough before the pandemic — but that COVID-19 hasn’t helped.

“It’s a layering issue. So, you’ve got being a woman, then you add another barrier, then you add another barrier — it just adds up,” said Bourdeau, who would also like to see more outreach to employers about hiring diverse candidates.

On a broader scale, Jasmine Ramze Rezaee says changes to public policy could not only help women re-enter the workforce, but ensure the jobs they occupy are better and more stable.    

Ramze Rezaae, director of advocacy and communications at YWCA Toronto, said women have not only been pushed out of the workforce during COVID-19, but have often found themselves on the front-lines of the pandemic in jobs ranging from grocery store cashier to personal support worker.

Jasmine Ramze Rezaee is the director of advocacy and communications at YWCA Toronto. (Submitted by Jasmine Ramze Rezaee)

“[We’re] not just supporting women’s labour market re-entry into good jobs and skilled jobs, but really imbour and employment standards so that the boat lifts for all workers,” said Ramze Rezaae.

To that end, the YWCA submitted a list of recommendations this week to the province’s workforce recovery advisory committee, which has been tasked with developing ideas to boost the economy and support workers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the organization’s suggestions include:

  • Raising the minimum wage.
  • Expanding the wage top-up for personal support workers to other workers in caring professions, such as child care and shelter staff.
  • Working with the federal government to implement universal child care.

CBC Toronto asked the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development for comment on the YWCA’s recommendations.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Minister Monte McNaughton said the workforce recovery committee is still meeting with workers and businesses and will present a report on its findings in the fall.

“Their work will be crucial to us bouncing back stronger than ever before,” said Ryan Whealy.

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