The daily stresses and demands of balancing work and home during the pandemic are taking a toll on many Canadian women who see no path ahead but to quit the workforce.
University of Guelph graduate student, Radhika Gandhi, in the department of population medicine, is the co-creator of the Flexible Work Program (FWP), a proposed government program designed to help keep women in the workforce.
“There are about 20,000 women in Canada who have left the workforce. When you look at males, more men are actually entering the workforce,” Gandhi said.
“It’s the ‘double burden syndrome’. With all of the responsibilities women have, including daycare costs, children learning from home and having to navigate all of this and still continue on with their lives, it’s so challenging.”
Despite progress in women's issues in recent years, there is concern that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a reversion to traditional gender roles. This may influence the health of many women, in terms of physical, social, psychological, and economic effects.
Gandhi said the FWP program promotes flexibility, making it easier for women to find a balance between their home and work life.
From February to April 2020, Statistics Canada reported employment decreased by 16.9 per cent for women compared with 14.6 per cent for men. And the employment recovery statistic from April to May shows that the rate of unemployment fell by 2.4 per cent for men and only 1.1 per cent for women.
“One out of three women contemplate leaving their job and this is such a high number. We want to address this,” Gandhi said.
FWP encourages employers to offer flexible working conditions for women. Employers that adopt the program can then qualify for government grants and tax breaks as incentives to implement the program.
“This can benefit both large and small companies where the government can provide funding and support,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi is working on the FWP project with four other students from Western University.
The proposed Flexible Work Program recently advanced to the third round in the Canada Comeback Challenge, a competition that creates opportunities for post-secondary students to contribute to Canada’s COVID-19 recovery while gaining valuable work-integrated learning experience.
The Canada Comeback Challenge is a skill-building national competition offered in an online format where student teams tackle real-world problems facing employers in Canada’s public, private, and non-profit sectors. They compete for a chance to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges.
The competition invites students to bring their innovative ideas and work with some of Canada’s top employers to make real change. It offers a way for students to connect with employers and mentors, build their networks, and gain valuable experience while contributing to Canada’s COVID-19 recovery.
The challenge is offered through the Business and Higher Education Roundtable and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, a federal research funding agency.
“FWP is a team of all women and we had so many ideas but one that always seemed to come up was women in the workforce. We knew this is what we wanted to pursue so we decided to hone in on it, and we pitched the proposal,” Gandhi said.
Although FWP did not win the challenge overall, Gandhi’s team is dedicated to implementing the program.
“This program is worth pursuing. As a team, are looking at other options in moving this forward, including contacting our parliament. We want to see this become a reality,” Gandhi said.
And FWP may not just benefit women.
“Yes, it will keep women in the workforce, but it will also help those men who would like to stay home with their kids. If a company has a FWP program, this is something that could apply to all genders,” Gandhi said.
“We are hoping to see where this goes in terms of implementing the program and we are ready to take those next steps in ensuring an equitable workspace for women.”
For Gandhi, the challenges women face during the pandemic hits close to home.
“Just seeing the struggles and exhaustion women are faced with, especially throughout the pandemic, it just opens your eyes. I see this where I live. I see it with my own eyes,” she said.
“This program is for women to have a better balance between their work life and home life and to keep them in the workforce.”