Why The Coronavirus She-cession Is Our Opportunity to Close The Gender Gap

By Kamille Coppin

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Major world events have a way of kickstarting innovation. The Spanish Flu moved forward DNA research, out of The Great Depression came washing machines and faster transportation, and following World War One, Canada experienced an economic boom that stimulated job growth, catapulting the modern economy. The added bonus: during war times women entered the workforce at record breaking rates. As the world continues to grapple with the fallout of the coronavirus, pandemic studies have shown that this world event is causing the highest female unemployment rate in history that experts are calling a ‘she-cession’. 

There are a number of complexities that contribute to the under-employing of women and other minority groups. In the case of COVID-19, a troubling mix of complicated work-from-home life conditions, the collapse of industries that heavily employ women, and an infrastructure lacking adequate child care facilities have heightened the impact.

An avid champion for increasing the visibility and equitable employment of women and minorities, Jennifer Reynolds, President and CEO of Toronto Financial International, says beyond it being a human right for women to be able to find adequate work, the she-cession of COVID-19 must be taken seriously if Canada hopes to regain it’s pre-pandemic GDP.  

With unemployment rates dipping lower than what experts have seen in over 30 years, according to a recent study conducted by RBC, women are facing the brunt of the downturned economy– something Reynolds and her team at TFI are trying to rectify.  

“Globally we had a real leading financial sector here in Canada. In keeping with that our mission statement is to promote the Canadian financial sector and the Toronto financial centre specifically and domestically to focus on issues which are a result of the growth rate and competitiveness of the industry,” said Reynolds.

In keeping with their mandate, the gender inequity gap costing the Canadian economy over $150 billion in GDP yearly, is an issue they have picked up and are working to fix. The need to involve women in all levels of all job sectors does not only create a better future for the country but is the most logical way forward to rehabilitate the economy beyond the pandemic.

“We need women working because they deserve to work,” said Reynolds, “The she-cession is not just about equality. It’s about the Canadian economy and it’s about GDP growth. You can’t and you won’t see GDP growth without women in the labor force. It’s that simple. It’s a critical issue for the industry and for the economy.”she-cession

In an article for the Toronto Star, Columnist Jamie Watt, says the multifaceted she-cession sheds light on a possible greater public health concern where Canada has seen over 50 percent of it’s confirmed cases and deaths being held by women. Unlike other regions, Canada has experienced a female dominant caseload. As a result of a higher percentage of women who are at a susceptible age for the virus, and the sheer number of high-risk jobs held by women in the country, the impact on women has been vastly unequal.

The bottom line, Reynolds says, is that without adequate protection, deliberate hiring and safe childcare options the future for women in the workplace is unsteady.

“The critical issue complicating their ability to go back to work is that many do not have childcare. So that was just a double whammy for women. That’s an unfortunate reality that until we have child care women who work outside of the home, just aren’t gonna be able to go back,” said Reynolds.

The question remains: where will we find innovation in this world crisis? And how do we manifest it in a way that holds no bias against women and minorities. Does the answer lay with the planned actions of the government? Or maybe in the C-suites of Canada’s top earning companies?

Reynolds believes that there is no single solution, but that any approach we take forward applies a gender lens as a means to better understand and work through the disproportionate complications women have been facing long before the pandemic. “It is like pushing a boulder up-hill. The minute you’re not constantly moving and pushing, you lose ground,” says Reynolds. “Unfortunately there’s a lag effect meaning if we don’t focus on the gender disparity and we continue to run the economy not thinking about how this is affecting women specifically, we will experience a fallback in progress.”

Gender equity in Canada has a long way to go regardless of the pandemic’s influence. As many are contemplating what the “new normal” holds for Canadians, it is the right time to re-evaluate and set new standards for women and minorities.