More than a year into a global pandemic, families around the country are still struggling to juggle work and home.
Women — and in particular working mothers — have been impacted even more than most and are reporting higher levels of anxiety, stress and depression caused by the pandemic, according to a poll undertaken by the Prosperity Project tracking poll and Statistics Canada labour force data analyzed in a RBC report from November 2020.
That news doesn’t come as a huge surprise for Krista Moreau, a Barrie-based family lawyer and owner of Moreau Family Law.
“For working moms, the juggle has always been real; COVID-19 has just brought that reality into even sharper focus. The expectation that we, as working parents overall, are capable of managing our full-time employment, households, children and school or childcare needs simultaneously leaves us feeling that we aren't truly excelling at any of them,” she told BarrieToday.
While she considers herself fortunate to have been able to maintain her professional work through the pandemic, it has not been without challenge.
“Everyone is in overdrive. Everyone is running on fumes," Moreau said.As a local business owner and working mom, Moreau said she is doing her best to find balance between the professional and personal demands, a daily challenge made tougher by COVID-19.
“I continue to work reduced — or more realistically flexed hours — to support the needs of my business and my family. It is imperative that my colleagues and clients understand my family demands, and that my family understand my professional obligations. That's often easier said than done with two young children.”
The last year has brought with it clarity for Moreau as not only a mom, but also as a business owner and working professional.
“We need to check in on each other. On our colleagues, our clients, our family members and children, and the community at large. Be patient. Show compassion. Be kind to each other,” she said. “We are all doing the very best we can as professionals and as parents, and the juggle is not easy.”
Allison Venditti is a career coach and advocate for working mothers. She also created Moms at Work, a free online networking, education and supportive group that boasts 5,000 members and believes the pandemic has impacted working mothers in every way imaginable.
“Women have taken the burden of child care, taken the burden of extra care giving (for elderly parents)… all the impacted groups from this pandemic have been women,” she said.
Typically in recessions, male-dominated industries are most impacted, but in a pandemic, it’s professions such as health-care workers, front-line workers, the service industry that are highly impacted — all of which have a higher number of women who work in these professions, which she believes were typically less valued by society to begin with, Venditti added.
The pandemic, however, didn’t create these issues — it merely shone a brighter light on it, she said.
“If we are forced to choose who stays home with the kids to do home-schooling, and your husband makes $100,000 and you make $50,000, that’s not a choice. Under no circumstances would any rational person give up that extra $50,000 in income. I despise the fact that they’re saying women have chosen; there was no choice. Our hands were forced so hard they almost broke.”
Single working mothers, she added, have been especially hard hit by the pandemic.
“If you want to look at the deep-rooted, systemic issues, you need to look at single mothers. These are the women who are holding it together,” she said, pointing out not everyone has had the option of working from home. “The people who were screwed from the beginning, were the non-white-collar workers. If you don’t show up for your job at Loblaws, you get fired. There’s no sick days, no leave of absence.”Venditti believes the only ways to get women back to work is to create publicly funded daycare and for the government to have solid action in addition to legislation, which would provide tax breaks to companies who hire mothers back and tax incentives for women who run businesses.
“Give us the money and watch what we can do with that," she said.
Pamela Jeffery is the founder of The Prosperity Project, an initiative she created last spring in response to what she felt was going to be a global event that would hit women disproportionately hard.
“Most Canadian families now have both mothers and fathers in the workforce. I think because of that, and because of age-old gender stereotypes where moms bear most of the responsibility for things like childcare and household tasks it has disproportionately impacted working mothers,” she said. “It’s that classic double shift and it’s sadly the reality of 2021. Then we saw the schools close and women largely being responsible, if they were working from home, helping home-school their children.”
The impact on working mothers isn’t just a Canadian issue, she noted, adding in order for the country, and the world, to come back from this, we need to see an inclusive recovery which begins with having women feeling less anxious, less stressed and less depressed and feeling that they can return — and stay — in their jobs.
“It’s an important conversation to have as a country. In order to have an economic recovery, we need to create some more jobs. In order to create more jobs, we need women to be able to put up their hand and say ‘yes, I’d like to be in that job and to be in the workforce’," Jeffery said.
According to Statistics Canada, more women than men have left the workforce in the last year, a result of needing child care, she said, adding the Prosperity Project is calling on the federal government to play a leadership role in creating an affordable child care and early childhood education program similar to what is available in Quebec.
“It’s no wonder that working moms are feeling not only stressed and anxious but are feeling trapped,” she said, adding there is huge concern what a third wave and additional lockdowns could mean for working mothers. “Our research showed Canadian women were experiencing higher levels of stress and depression during the second wave.
"Based on our survey results if the second wave continues and becomes a third wave, six in 10 working moms are telling us they will experience even higher stress, Jeffery added.
While she wasn’t surprised by the survey results, Jeffery said she was definitely disappointed.
“I think it’s time couples have conversations about the equal sharing of those household responsibilities because these gender stereotypes are a real barrier for women to enjoy their careers, for women to be less anxious and stressed about juggling the work and home, and it’s a barrier for our country,” she said. “We can’t build back better and have a good recovery… unless we have women returning to the workforce and being fully engaged.”