Read part 2: Devolving from She-cession to Recession
Read part 3: What is happening to business right now?
Adrienne lives in fear of another school closure. The 35 year-old Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) is a single mother of two school-age children. She works in an urban hospital in Southern Ontario.
“I’ve been job-sharing throughout the pandemic because I’m in school full time,” Adrienne said. “It is very hard for me to be home with the kids and help with their homework as it is, so if there were further school closures, I would have to quit. I don’t get paid if I am not working and I don’t have day care. My parents usually provide day care after school, but my father has Sarcoidosis and can’t breathe properly, so we try to limit their contact as well.”
As a healthcare worker, COVID-19 is always on Adrienne’s mind. She is already aware of how an infection would impact the lives of her entire family and understands the abundance of caution the surrounds runny noses and random coughs.
“It’s the unknown that hurts,” she said. “I can manage right now because the kids are in school, but if schools were to close, what would I do then? At the beginning of September, my son had fall allergies and it was unclear up to the last moment whether I could send him to school with a runny nose. I think my anxiety comes out because I get overwhelmed. The stress is piling up. I’ve felt really exhausted lately.”
Adrienne has already cared for at least one patient who tested positive with the virus. She and her parents have already worked out a number of isolation plans that they may have to implement at a moment’s notice, but none of them are workable for the long term.
“I don’t know if you can get the full picture, unless you are in it,” Adrienne said of the stress she is facing.
B2BNN is withholding Adrienne’s last name and employer’s identity to safeguard her family’s privacy. Many women are reluctant to talk about the new difficulties of combining work and motherhood during COVID-19.
Nothing about Adrienne’s experience, or any of the thousands of mothers like her, is indicative of a personal failing or an inability to manage. The emerging picture suggests the stress and worry over being able to go to work is not limited to nurses. The experience goes far beyond health care.
The loss of women’s work hours to virtual schooling and child care are detrimental to society as a whole.
While many women were able to return to work when schools re-opened in September, many more could not due to family health issues, concern about re-opening with classes with more than 15 students, or a host of other reasons.
According to a survey of 1000 Canadian women conducted by the Prosperity Project and Pollara in September, 1/3 of Canadian women have considered leaving their jobs due to pressures created by the pandemic.
The same month, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) which represents more than 60,000 members across the province issued a statement acknowledging that women are facing a harder time as a result of COVID-19 than their male colleagues.
“The economic impacts of the pandemic were direct and immediate for women in Ontario,” said Claudia Dessanti, Senior Policy Analyst of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in a press release.
“Temporary business shutdowns during the state of emergency most severely affected sectors that predominantly employ women. Restrictions on schools and paid child care facilities have shifted additional hours of unpaid family care onto parents, and this work has largely been taken up by mothers.”
The impact of women’s unemployment on the larger economy has not gone unnoticed. Dr. Kate Bezanson is Associate Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean of Social Sciences at Brock University. She specializes in social policy, gender, political economy, federalism and constitutional law. She and her co-authors released a call for a national childcare system based on the experience of women during the pandemic.
“When the COVID-19 crisis hit, women were the first called or pushed out of the labour market for caregiving or employment sector imperatives, making this Canada’s first care- and service-sector led recession – what some call a ‘pink collar recession’1 or ‘she- cession,’” wrote Bezanson and her co-authors Andrew Bevan and Monica Lysak in Childcare for Recovery and Re-building, published on the First Policy Response web site. “Without a vision and plan for immediate support as well as sustainable long- term childcare system building, women will be both the first out and last back. Such an outcome will yield massive consequences at the household and macroeconomic levels, including stunted economic growth, decreased taxation revenues for governments, and increased poverty for women and children.”
The need for a national childcare system in Canada is being championed as a key element in the post-pandemic economic recovery. In the next segment of this feature we’ll examine what businesses are in for if this new brain drain of women from the workforce continues.