Over the last few months, we’ve discussed how COVID is impacting various aspects of Canadian life. From work-life to family-life, the effects of the pandemic are forcing us to reconsider how we function as a society, what’s working and what needs to change, particularly when it comes to deep-rooted injustices. Although gender and racial inequalities persist every day, they are amplified in times of crisis. 

Employers play an important role in acknowledging and fighting the very real impact of COVID on workers. Randstad Canada recently announced our proud partnership with Actua, a national charity that engages youth in experiences that build skills and confidence in science, technology, engineering and math. In the light of COVID, Actua’s Jennifer Flanagan and our very own CFO, Audrey Lara, got together to discuss gender, diversity, race, and the future of work.

what is the actual impact of COVID on women?

Studies have shown that, in times of crisis, women are disproportionately impacted. In Canada, 20% of working women lost their jobs due to COVID, compared to only 13% of their male counterparts. Although job loss has been a common struggle for people around the world, the impact on women is much more severe. Many women who continued to work during the pandemic faced disruptions in working hours, job security, and paid work capacity, along with a disproportionate increase in responsibilities. The latter is most acute for those with children under the age of 12. 

When it comes to professional growth in times of crisis, women can find themselves at a distinct disadvantage. Employers that call upon workers for essential or urgent projects may inadvertently give opportunities to employees who are more flexible and who can commit more hours to the job. Often, these employees are men. Because many women have less time outside of standard work hours, usually due to family responsibilities, they can easily miss out on extra one-on-one time with managers and leaders. Employers have a responsibility to closely monitor and mitigate the gender impacts of their decisions. For example, creating flexible or hybrid schedules for everyone can level the playing field. 

how can we ensure diverse workplaces? 

The recent Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and around the world are forcing employers to have uncomfortable, albeit necessary and meaningful, conversations regarding what it means to be a person of colour in the workplace. These conversations often require thorough self-reflection and a deep understanding of how individuals handle different biases. Fortunately,  organizations are beginning to focus on the real experiences of BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of colour) employees, examining how the workplace contributes to discrimination and what must be done to fight it. 

With talks surrounding diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism taking place at the highest levels, leaders are tasked with providing clearer guidelines for fair and balanced workplaces. A diverse and inclusive workplace calls for a diverse and inclusive leadership team. To achieve this, companies need to foster a culture of inclusivity, provide better mentoring, actively create opportunities for culturally diverse workers, and nurture employee potential to promote internally. By recognizing shortcomings in workplace structures, policies, and relationships, employers can work to provide equal access and more positive experiences for all workers. Making sure that diverse perspectives and voices are represented is essential. 

what long-term changes can we expect? 

COVID transformed the way workplaces function and, for the most part, it’s positive. The quick and necessary transition to remote work brought to light our collective ability to not only remain productive, but to thrive. As results-only work environments become increasingly popular, employers are beginning to value workers for their concrete contributions: the outcome of the work matters more than where you’re working from or how many hours you’re putting it. If the future of work is remote, then flexibility is key. 

Remote work also forces us to get creative when it comes to relationship-building, mentoring, and creating a sense of community. These experiences allow workers to grow professionally, experiences that women and people of colour are more likely to be left out of. By becoming more mindful and purposeful in fostering employee engagement, organizations can ensure all workers are provided with equal opportunities to connect. 

But when it comes to digital connections, future generations have the upper hand. Gen Z is a socially conscious generation, fuelled with a desire to educate themselves and educate others. They influence how we work and how companies operate. Alongside attractive salaries and benefits, young workers also seek organizational values that match their own. Employers who are diverse, innovative, flexible, and purpose-driven are more likely to thrive in a post-pandemic world. 

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