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What COVID-19 is Teaching Us about Gender Equality and the Future of Work

One of the most pressing and widespread repercussions of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been the closure of non-essential businesses and services. At least in the short-term, this crisis has fundamentally changed the way we think about work now that 40% of Canada’s workforce is stuck at home and organizations have been forced to make tough decisions related to operational logistics, layoffs, and continuity plans. While some of these developments may seem temporary, companies can better prepare for the future by examining COVID-19’s repercussions and using insights to implement a more sustainable business model.

As destructive as COVID-19 has been, it also provides an opportunity for further dialogue on gender equality, one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Numerous articles in recent days have discussed the pandemic’s effects on Canadians in gendered contexts: domestic violence rates have increase by 20-30 percent in some cases; women comprise the majority of frontline workers in the healthcare and community services sectors but have also lost jobs at a higher rate; and trans people are facing increased physical and mental health challenges. Along with revealing a number of different fault lines, COVID-19 has illuminated the imperative for achieving gender equality: it’s crucial to the overall resilience of Canada and its economy moving forward.

Despite the distress resulting from this crisis, in some cases, COVID-19 has also paved the way for good practices related to work, such as accommodating employees’ family commitments or personal responsibilities. Perhaps one of the most relevant good practices that COVID-19 ushered in is flexible work options. Flex work has been recognized as a key element in attracting, retaining, and supporting the participation of all employees, but especially women. As non-essential businesses were ordered to close their offices, worksites, and stores, many scrambled to enable remote work and find ways to accommodate those with children at home, dependent care responsibilities, illness or health issues, and a host of other personal concerns. Organizations that already had the technology, mechanisms, and policies in place to support flex work enjoyed a much easier transition, reaping the benefits of their efforts to enhance inclusion and improve wellbeing for all employees.

It’s not that gender equality is a magical solution to avoid the negative ramifications of a future pandemic or crisis; it’s that implementing measures to advance gender equality – such as flexible work options – will inherently make your business more adaptable and resilient so that when future crises arise, your organization will be in a better position to respond and rebound.

Global Compact Network Canada has been working for the last three years to assist organizations that are pursuing gender equality in order to improve their capacity to react to future challenges. The Gender Equality Leadership in the Canadian Private Sector project engages 20+ companies and advisory partners to develop and test a set of tools designed to advance gender equality in the workplace. The resulting Blueprint for Gender Equality contains in-depth research, recommendations, tips, best practices, and resources to help organizations implement measures to achieve gender equality. The Blueprint, along with a corresponding Maturity Model assessment tool and resource database will be publicly available and accessible for all in October 2020.