GRI Summit 2022
In the second of a three-part series on environment, social and governance (ESG) issues facing the financial sector, we engaged our members in a thoughtful discussion on Social: Women, the Pandemic and Economic Repercussions.
We gained insights from Sarah Kaplan, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Formerly a professor at the Wharton School of Business and consultant at McKinsey and Company, Sarah speaks frequently to the media on topics related to achieving a more inclusive economy and she has written several books. Her current work focuses on applying an innovation lens to understanding the challenges for achieving greater gender equality and other social goods.
The pandemic has amplified, and exposed, many of the inequities in our system, society and economy. The past year has seen the pandemic have a disproportionate impact on women’s careers and their health. Women have faced unique structural challenges, from childcare to accessing senior management roles. The pandemic has revealed what was already broken – a system that consistently disadvantages women.
Following, are highlights of some key insights offered by Sarah on women’s experiences through the pandemic, the trends underlying the pandemic’s impact, the challenges of innovation and organizational change and how we can build a more equitable future as we work through Canada’s post pandemic recovery.
No recovery is possible without equity. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women’s livelihoods, jobs and careers, including women of colour, women with disabilities and women who are immigrants or low income. More than 63% of pandemic job losses were experienced by women. There have been substantial cuts in the “five C” sectors – caring, cleaning, catering, clerical jobs, and cashiering – where many women are employed. Their employment has not returned to pre-pandemic levels and many women have had to move into part time, or less financially rewarding, work. Unless this inequity is resolved, we will never achieve full economic recovery.
An investment in childcare is an investment in our economy. Childcare is not just a women’s issue. An investment in high quality childcare, including early childhood learning, constitutes an infrastructure investment which will benefit both users and the broader community, not just in the short term but over the long run. It results in direct employment in the sector, indirect employment for suppliers who supply the sector, and more induced employment for the industries that supply goods and services to those households that now have more earning power because they are employed.
A caring economy can revive us. Other social investments beyond childcare will strengthen our economy. These include investments in protecting our planet, addressing the root causes of racism, and viewing care work as essential work. We also need to invest in good jobs, bolster small businesses, strengthen infrastructure for recovery, and ensure diverse voices are heard in decision making.
Affordable care systems generate fiscal benefits – insights witnessed from the Quebec experience. Quebec’s implementation of an affordable care program yielded a dramatic increase in employment and both federal and provincial governments benefitted financially. As individual’s earnings increased, so did tax revenue. As businesses expanded due to this investment, so did corporate tax revenue. With fewer people living in poverty, government expenses that supported welfare programs decreased.
Beyond GDP measures, we need to consider other factors when measuring economic well-being and prosperity. When we think about an inclusive economy, measures beyond Gross Domestic Product need to be assessed: Do marginalized communities have access to good jobs with decent income and paid sick leave? How is unpaid care work being economically valued? How many affordable housing units have been created?
Instead of focusing on ‘getting back to normal’ we should focus on ‘getting back to a NEW normal’. We have an opportunity to rethink how work is done. We have discovered that people can work effectively from home and that people with childcare or other dependent responsibilities can work effectively. We can be more inclusive of people with disabilities. We can rethink supply chains and do a better job of including diverse suppliers. We can rethink hiring and promotions.
“The pipeline isn’t there” is a tired excuse for not addressing diversity in the workplace more effectively. The investment of time, stretched beyond conventional job searches and internal succession planning, will result in engaging hugely talented and interesting people who will make major contributions to organizations.
We need to embrace new world economies. Traditional economic metrics are changing. Young people do not buy into traditional norms and are more interested in asking questions about economic inclusion, the environment, and sustainability. They are driving the shift in this direction and are demanding it.
We need to rethink our workforce in the context of emerging trends that include family demands, immigration and retirement. Be they women or men, we need to keep employees engaged, respect their needs for ‘time to take care of other responsibilities’, and offer ongoing opportunities for skills and knowledge building. To grow our country and economy we must engage talented, educated immigrants and must push back on a requirement for “Canadian experience” as a qualifier for employment. Similarly, we need to fight ageism and provide opportunities for both younger and older individuals who want to access or remain in the workforce.
Distinguished Professor of Gender and the Economy
Professor of Strategic Management
Director, Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE)
Other events in our Women in Risk 2021 series include:
GOVERNANCE: THE BOARD’S ROLE IN ALIGING VALUE AND VALUES WITH JANE KINNEY AND SONIA BAXENDALE – Tuesday April 20, 11 am – 12 noon
ENVIRONMENT: THE FINANCIAL SECTOR AND CANADA’S PATH TO NET ZERO WITH MIRANDA HUBBS AND AMY WEST – Wednesday May 12, 11 am – 12 noon