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Covid-19 worsening threats to gender equity
Pandemic fallout may clog pipeline of next-generation female corporate leaders, says report
11 Nov 2020 | 

Covid-19 has affected everyone, but its impact on working women has been devastating, according to a recent study. In Canada, female participation in the labour force plunged to its lowest level in 30 years within just a few months, driven by layoffs and shifts in in the living and working environment.

The pandemic now threatens to ravage the pipeline of next-generation female leaders, potentially reversing much of the progress corporate Canada has made towards diversity and inclusion, according to new analysis from Thinking Ahead, a platform for insights into long-term investing at Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments).

“Unlike the Great Recession of 2008, during which eight in 10 job losses affected men, female workers have borne the brunt of layoffs this time around and are returning to work at a slower pace,” says the report. “What’s more, the pressures of juggling jobs, family and household responsibilities have fallen disproportionately to women, significantly affecting their productivity and mental well-being, and leading an alarming number to consider leaving the workforce entirely.”

In March, employment among women aged 25 to 54 years fell by 298,500, more than twice the decrease among men, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). Nearly half of this decrease (144,000) was among women working part-time, many in low-paid service and care work who were already living on the financial edge before the pandemic struck.

Women make up just under half (47%) of all workers, but account for two-thirds (63%) of all job losses.  Among workers in the core demographic aged 25 to 54 years, women represent 70% of all job losses, the CCPA notes.

The largest proportional losses were among youth (aged 15 to 24 years), accounting for almost 40% of total jobs losses in March. Young women have experienced the majority of these losses (59%), and over one-third of all job losses reported by women (36%).

In its report, CPP Investments identifies several recommendations for corporate and policy leaders to accelerate the participation of women at all corporate levels:

  • Set measurable diversity targets for boards seats and executive positions by adopting targets for female representation.
  • Track diversity at all organizational levels and build the talent pipeline.
  • Support childcare for working parents to enable more women to return to work.
  • Re-examine existing systems to identify and combat bias in the corporate culture.
  • Go beyond diversity to inclusion in corporate culture.
  • Institutionalize beneficial practices introduced during the pandemic, such as remote work or flexible schedules.
  • Leaders must lead, setting the tone at the top but also within the “frozen middle” management.

“The business risk of losing the expertise and perspectives brought to the table by women is too great to ignore,” says Mark Machin, CPP Investments president and chief executive officer.  “It is a business imperative that we work to solve this problem and, in doing so, shape a faster economic recovery for Canada and greater value creation for Canadian businesses.”

CPP Investments is an investment management corporation for the funds contributed by more than 20 million contributors and beneficiaries of the Canada Pension Plan.

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