Women’s participation in workforce at lowest level in 3 decades due to COVID-19: RBC

TORONTO (NEWS 1130) — A new study is reporting women in the workforce have experienced an unprecedented blow during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a study by the  Royal Bank of Canada, women’s participation is at the lowest level in more than three decades.

women in labour force

Maya Roy, CEO of YWCA Canada says if a solution to address gender equity is not made soon, the Canadian economy will suffer.

“Over 70 per cent of essential workers in Canada are actually women,” Roy says. “But what we’re seeing at YWCA in the statistics is that it’s actually predominantly vulnerable women.”

While women of colour make up a majority of essential work, Roy says they are often handed minumum protections despite how much the Canadian economy relies on their work.


According to a recent report by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, over half of all female workers are employed in occupations involving the “5 Cs”: caring, clerical, catering, cashiering and cleaning, and it is these jobs predominantly held by women of colour, that are the highest risk for COVID-19 infection.

“When you see across Toronto for example, where COVID is hitting hardest it is in the low income communities of racialized folks around the edges of the city because they’re the people who do not have the option to not work during the pandemic and so they’re doing the frontline work under high-risk conditions, and are paying the cost of that with their health and their lives, literally,” labour and human rights lawyer Fay Faraday says.

Women largely staff the hospitality industry, retail and travel but with the COVID-19 economic shutdown, women disproportionately have been losing their jobs at a level not seen in previous economic recessions.

Faraday notes that many jobs are held by migrant and undocumented women.

Earlier this month CityNews Toronto spoke to a migrant childcare worker from Grenada, Khim Smith, who said she was fired and immediately kicked out of her employer’s home because she was sick, even though it wasn’t with COVID-19.

“I was so humiliated. I had to make five phone calls before someone could come and pick me up from the street. We are working hard, we are contributing to the economy of the country. And what do we get in return? This is tantamount to slavery,” Smith said.

Faraday adds responses to help women need to be rebuilt that provide social security for all.

“The response can’t be, ‘we’ll just go back to normal and we’ll just let that keep happening.’ The response has to be, ‘we won’t let that continue, we won’t let people be at risk,'” Faraday says.

Suggestions to support women in labour force

Roy explains taking women out of the equation can lead to a drop in GDP.

She adds a lack of support can also put women in dangerous positions as domestic violence rates have increased anywhere between 20 to 40 per cent during the pandemic.

“It’s also putting a lot of women at risk because for women in lockdown to be isolated with your abuser that could potentially be a death sentence,” she says.

Roy recommends by governments investing in affordable, accessible and high-quality childcare will improve women’s ability to get back into the workforce.

“Not only will people be able to go back to work sooner. But there’s also some really interesting Economic Research coming out of UK [and] coming out of the Quebec, showing that if you actually invest money in care work it can actually create millions of jobs.”

Investing in women entrepreneurs is also a way to support women, according to Roy.

“With all of the really amazing support Canadians have done around anti-racism in response to Black Lives Matters protests, we have amazing black identified and indigenous entrepreneurs who are doing innovative work, selling their work online, investing in vulnerable and racialized and BIPOC, entrepreneurs, would be a really concrete way that the economy can get back on its feet.”

YWCA Canada and the University of Toronto will be releasing their feminist economic recovery plan for Canada on July 28.

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