Women leaving workforce to care for kids during pandemic: report

Men are picking up jobs at more than three-times the rate that women are leaving the workforce amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report by the Royal Bank of Canada.

The report found more than 20,000 women left the workforce between February and October, while about 68,000 men joined it, with the pandemic and the demands of raising children likely to blame for the first finding. Meanwhile, men are benefiting from growth in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“We need to see women come back into the labour market in order to ensure that our economy can hit the stronger growth rates as we go forward,” said Dawn Desjardins, deputy chief economist at RBC and the report’s co-author.

Read: Men offered flexible working options more often than women: survey

Desjardins and co-author Carrie Freestone, an economist at RBC, said they’re seeing women between ages 20 and 24 and those between 35 and 39 abandon work faster than most other cohorts. Some of these workers are returning to school to pick up new careers and skills, while others are raising children. The report said mothers with children under six only made up 41 per cent of the labour force in February and yet they account for two-thirds of the exodus.

The authors are particularly worried because a high number of women who’ve lost their jobs during the pandemic weren’t temporarily laid off and don’t appear to be looking for work like their male counterparts. This could be because women are more likely to work in industries slower to recover from pandemic restrictions, their ability to work from home may be much lower than men because they dominate the hospitality, retail and arts sectors and they often take on more onerous responsibilities associated with raising children.

Older women might not be leaving the workforce at the same rates, but they’re being affected as well, said Vandana Juneja, executive director at Catalyst Canada, a non-profit organization encouraging the advancement of women in the workforce.

Read: Women considering downshifting, leaving careers due to pandemic: report

She pointed to a September study from McKinsey and Co. and LeanIn.org that found senior-level women are much more likely than men at the same level to feel burned out and under pressure to work more. They’re also 1.5-times more likely than senior-level men to think about downshifting their role or leaving the workforce because of the pandemic and almost three in four cited burnout as a main reason.

Of the 48,000 workers in the retail, accommodations and food services industry who lost their jobs in October, Desjardins said about 80 per cent were women and they accounted for nearly twice the share of the decline in labour force participation when compared with men.

Earlier this year, Desjardins authored a report that said the pandemic has pushed women’s participation in the labour force down to its lowest level in three decades and is a stark contrast with prior recessions, where men were much more likely than women to be laid off.

Juneja said these findings highlight why it’s so important for companies to practice empathy and offer flexibility that’s  not just centred around hours, but can accommodate those looking after children or elderly or ill family members.

“We know there’s no silver bullet solution to greater equity in the workplace, but there are a number of things that companies can and really should be doing during this pandemic.”

Read: Women’s participation in labour force reaches lowest level in three decades: study