Pandemic threatens to undo gender equity progress in workforce: CPPIB report

Soon after the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, layoffs and the shift to remote working resulted in a 30-year low in female participation in the Canadian workforce, threatening to undo gains in gender equity in the workplace, according to a new report by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

Women have suffered the most layoffs or furloughs during the pandemic and are returning to work at a slower pace, it noted. There are also signs of women leaving the workforce at higher rates than men, which may lead to far fewer women in leadership roles in the coming years.

“The business risk of losing the expertise and perspectives brought to the table by women is too great to ignore,” said Mark Machin, president and chief executive officer of the CPPIB, in a press release.

The fallout from the crisis could dismantle the pipeline of next-generation female leaders and reverse corporate Canada’s progress toward diversity and inclusion, warned the CPPIB, noting the effects could also have a lasting economic impact on the country. For instance, the report said that companies in the top quartile for management gender diversity were 25 per cent more likely to deliver higher profitability than those in the bottom quartile and banks led by women were more stable than their peers.

“I think we’re going to see a second wave as schools and companies go back with a mass exodus of women from the workforce,” said Sarah Kaplan, professor and director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, in the report.

It urged employers to do more to retain female workers and continue the gains in gender equity and diversity inclusion. It also suggested that companies set measurable diversity targets for board seats and executive positions, increase efforts to build the female talent pipeline, support childcare for working parents, minimize bias against women in corporate culture, go beyond diversity to inclusion, institutionalize beneficial practices introduced during the pandemic and address gender equity from the top down, starting with leadership.

“It is a business imperative that we work to solve this problem and, in doing so, shape a faster economic recovery for Canada and greater value creation for Canadian businesses,” said Machin.