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Unlocking the power of women in the workforce

4 MIN READ

“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens.”

In the past three years, United Way East Ontario has been working to better understand how important women’s access to the workforce is for an equitable economic recovery.

In 2022, Canada saw
record high employment for women aged 25 to 54, despite the mounting economic and social challenges we experienced in the years prior. We strongly believe that to have an equitable economic recovery from the pandemic, we need to realize the value of equitable working environments. Effectively using the experiences and expertise that marginalized groups bring to the table can drive economic successes for the entire community.  

We want to highlight and realize the tremendous potential that exists when we empower women in the workforce. 

Women perform roughly double the amount of unpaid labour that men do, including an estimated 52 hours per week of unpaid childcare. This is happening at a time when more women are being employed and are making increasingly larger contributions to Canada’s GDP. These contributions cannot go unnoticed and are a clear societal limitation on women’s capacity to contribute to the labour force. There are only 168 hours in a week; if we want to see continued improvements to women’s labour contributions, we need to provide women with the supports they need.  

So, if we want to get more women into the workforce and retain those that are currently employed, what kind of challenges are we up against 

  1. Women are often faced with a difficult decision between pursuing their careers and staying home with their children. The subsidized childcare program introduced in Quebec in 1997 saw a significant increase in the labour force participation rate of mothers in that province over the following years. The impact and cost savings of Canada’s introduction of the government’s major childcare program, which would see all the provinces and territories achieving $10 per day childcare by 2026, should not be understated. Programs like these help energize the workforce and help ease both the unpaid labour and financial burdens women face when providing childcare.  

  2. Employers across multiple sectors are considering what the future of work looks like and how much value maintaining remote options would have on access and equitable opportunities. A recent survey from Abacus Data showed that remote working options are increasingly appealing to women, where seven in 10 considered work-from-home flexibility quite or extremely important when searching for a job. If given the choice, these women would work from home two-thirds of the time. However, women may risk being penalized for selecting remote or hybrid working models, so it is important to ensure that this flexibility is provided without introducing barriers to promotions and other opportunities. 

  3. In East Ontario, domestic violence is on the rise at an alarming rate. Ottawa police reported that seven of the 16 homicide cases in 2022 were against women and girls. The 16 homicide cases in 2021 saw just two.

    Furthermore, all the victims in 2022 were either racialized or Indigenous women and girls. These numbers are also generally much higher in rural communities, where the availability of basic supports to escape abuse might be harder to access. In this setting, the scrutiny or disbelief of abuse allegations by the community might be higher due to the smaller, more tight-knit population. In rural communities, there are also barriers to accessing transitional housing, which is already limited and has long waitlists.
     
     
    All these issues can factor into a woman’s ability to maintain economic independence, access employment, or keep jobs they may currently hold, and require solutions to ensure economic independence isn’t threatened. 

  4. While the data available is incredibly important when determining the value that women provide to the workforce, it’s also important to understand the gaps. One piece missing is the availability of disaggregated data. This is the kind of data that is broken into smaller clusters that recognize specific groups of people based on gender, race, ethnicity, age, religious beliefs, etc. This data is used to understand how people with different lived experiences are (or could be) affected by social policies or barriers to employment. Having this readily available can better inform our advocacy and bring more wholesome discussions about what solutions marginalized people need to access equitable economic opportunities. 

What does United Way recommend to help more women enter the workforce, and stay there?  

  1. Invest in more affordable, accessible childcare – childcare makes up a large proportion of the unpaid work that women do. The expensive childcare costs in Ontario are burdensome to many families, and a reduction in these costs would facilitate an easier decision between staying home and paying for childcare.

  2. Provide more supports for hybrid and flexible working arrangements – given the current cultural and social context that women work in, providing the option to work from home and to work with flexible hours will enable women to better balance their work and home lives. Research demonstrates that this flexibility is something that women are increasingly drawn toward, and as such it is important to attract more women into the workforce.

  3. Reduce risk factors for intimate partner violence The safety and well-being of women affects future generations and the success of our communities. By continuing to advocate for increased capacity of the social services sector, we can address systemic challenges, identify resources and supports, and invest to support women and gender-diverse people in our communities. 

  4. Invest in making local level disaggregated data more accessible to the public the availability of detailed local level data would provide better insights into the needs that women have that are specific to their local communities. A better understanding of the challenges for women from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds, immigrant women, and the differences between women working in rural and urban environments would allow for a more targeted approach to combatting systematic barriers to the employment of these women. 

Women supporting women

United Way’s Women United program is for women who are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of issues facing our community and want to see the direct impact of their donation. 

Members are connected to a network of like-minded women who rally their support, expertise and resources to lift up vulnerable women in our community. 

By joining our local chapter, you can be part of an initiative that connects to a national and international movement. Globally, Women United includes more than 75,000 women across six countries and 165 communities. 
 

How you can make a difference with Women United 
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