Editorial: Looking back — and ahead — in an unprecedented year

While we speak regularly with outstanding women in the human resources, benefits, pension and investment industries, our annual Women’s Issue allows us to take a broader view, including how these women’s careers have evolved, their perspectives on mentorship and work-life balance, as well as their thoughts about pay equity and gender diversity.

When I wrote the Cover Story for the September 2020 issue, I was six-months pregnant with my son and trying to imagine how I’d balance single parenthood and a demanding job once he arrived. I found the conversations for that feature enlightening and still think about the great advice and guidance that was passed along by women I truly admire.

Read: Women in the HR, benefits, pension and investment industries discuss work-life balance, mentorship and DEI priorities

In this month’s Cover Story, our newest associate editor had the opportunity to learn from some of the best, interviewing six women in our industry who are leading by example. Bell Canada’s Monica Mielnik shares how she’s been inspired by her company’s focus on mental health. 3M Canada’s Jacqueline McLennan discusses the best ways she can support other women. AstraZeneca’s Gena Restivo highlights how important it is to provide perspective while mentoring others. Scotiabank’s Rosemary Hatnay details how the coronavirus pandemic has positively impacted her work-life balance. Hallmark Canada’s Lauren Carlisle shares her organization’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. And the Alberta Investment Management Corp.’s Sandra Lau explains why she’s prioritizing bringing more women into the investment industry.

As this issue went to press, one of the world’s leading athletes announced she’s retiring — or evolving away — from professional tennis, citing the struggles she’s faced balancing her work with her role as a mother. While Serena Williams’ job isn’t a typical one, the news shines a spotlight on the choices women are forced to make to create balance between their professional and personal lives. A choice that most men — irregardless of their career — don’t often have to consider.

Indeed, in the first year of the pandemic, a report by the Royal Bank of Canada found more than 20,000 women left the workforce between February and October. It found working mothers with children under the age of six only made up 41 per cent of the labour force in February and yet they accounted for two-thirds of the exodus. In 2021, a survey by FlexJobs found 68 per cent of women said they preferred working remotely during the pandemic compared to 57 per cent of men.

Read: Women leaving workforce to care for kids during pandemic: report

Read: Women embracing remote working during the pandemic more than men: survey

These two surveys are just two examples highlighting the pandemic’s impact on working women. So in this month’s Head to Head, we asked whether flexibility is the key to preventing women from leaving the workforce.

One of the respondents — Kraft Heinz Canada’s senior benefits manager Tracy Fogale — describes how the organization’s hybrid working model provides employees with flexibility, though she notes it can’t tackle systemic issues such as the gender pay gap, workplace discrimination and women’s lack of representation in senior positions.

And despite being a proponent of work flexibility for more than 25 years, Arla Day, professor of occupational health psychology at Saint Mary’s University, also says it isn’t the key to retaining employees, noting there’s much more to a healthy and respectful work culture.

Read: Head to head: Is flexibility the key to preventing women from leaving the workforce?

Whether it’s the women featured in this month’s Cover Story — or across the entire issue — or legendary women who demonstrate grace and integrity in their professional and personal lives, these trailblazers are leading by example as guideposts for all women. I sincerely hope everyone — including men — have someone like this in their lives, whether in the workplace or at home, to offer guidance along the way.

Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.