Student Guest Post: Workplace and government policies needed to help women cope during COVID-19

Written by Zoe Masseo 

This post was contributed by Zoe as part of her coursework for Women in Civic Leadership at King's University College. This assignment paired students with a community organization to create a project together, in this case, a blog post about how women who are parents working in the nonpofit sector are affected by COVID-19 in regards to government and workplace policies. Zoe is completing her Honours Specialization in Social Justice and Peace Studies at King's University College. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, women have been and continue to be disproportionately affected as influenced by factors including insufficient policies made both by workplaces and the government, as well as social norms and familial responsibilities. These realities make it challenging for women, especially those who are parents, to balance home and work life. Throughout history, and as recent Statistics Canada figures show, women do the majority of care work in a family (2.5 hours a day more than men) and also dominate the field of care work as seen in Louise Pitre and AnnaLise Trudell’s article Equity from the inside out: Aligning workplace practices with gender realities. In her article titled Women bearing the brunt of economic losses: One in five has been laid off or had hours cut, Katherine Scott cites that women’s experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been disproportionately affected by job losses. To shed some light on these statistics, I spoke to two women who are parents working in the nonprofit sector to understand how women with children are managing the pandemic.

Flexible work schedules

Louise Pitre and AnnaLise Trudell cite that “63% of job losses [in March of 2020] were experienced by women”. This job loss may be caused by a variety of factors, including having to leave voluntarily to take care of family members. This is important to note, because if children are part of these families, women then take on the brunt of the care work whilst schools are closed or going forward online. Pitre and Trudell explain that since women are out of work, they do statistically more care work at home than men and have been regaining employment at a slower rate as well. This creates a large issue especially for women without spouses, or women with the responsibility of taking care of family.

I caught up with two women who now work from home during the pandemic who both have children and spouses. Both women explain that they are fortunate in that work around the house is distributed evenly and that their work schedules are flexible enough to make sure children are taken care of and continuing their schoolwork. The ability to work from home is rooted in workplace policy and flexibility that allows for changing and reforming certain roles in order to keep working instead of having to resign or being laid off. Flexible working policies create a much more productive and caring work environment for women with families. Additionally, policies such as eliminating work with clients and creating flexible schedules, especially for those with children or just those having a hard time, make it easier to cope. Both women interviewed agree that flexible workplace policies have been a saving grace. One woman specifically states that though working from home has been difficult, workplaces allowing for flexible scheduling has helped tremendously in her day-to-day life. This suggests that flexible scheduling during the pandemic is important in any occupation possible to allow for healthier work arrangements.

Workplace sick days and government policy

One element of the pandemic that has been rough for most individuals is maintaining good mental health. Both women interviewed agree that having six sick days a year is “definitely not enough,” and that working from home is easier when you have older children but in the case of women with infants, if an infant gets sick, working from home is not really possible. When children get sick, it is often the woman who takes time off work to take care of the child. In some cases, such as seen through the interviews, male spouses often make more money so it makes sense for the woman to take time off. This makes for sick days being used up quickly and leaving the woman with no sick days for herself. When talking about this in the interviews, one woman explained that because of this she used up all of her sick days in one month and that “organizations should have more mental health days for parents”. This sentiment is echoed by mental health professionals. In her article titled Millennial moms have been driven to their breaking point, Catherine Pearson explains that: “Month after month, the stress has piled on top of those women who have stoically endured the relentlessness of pandemic parenting - to the point where mental health experts worry it could become chronic”. These examples display the need for workplaces to have better sick leave policy that fosters an understanding of family needs.

When talking about sick leave in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, instituting a government policy of paid quarantine leave is suggested by the women interviewed. One woman gave this example as an explanation: “If a child gets COVID-19 at school, the two weeks should be paid time off because the entire family would then have to quarantine. Taking care of children will be top priority, making working from home impossible and therefore forces the parents to take potential unpaid time off as workplaces have limited funds for sick days”. This example calls for the government to create funding for people quarantining to allow for people to continue having income in circumstances of contracting COVID-19. This funding should either be given straight to the families affected by COVID-19, or given to workplaces to be able to add more sick leave for workers.

While women are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, reform to workplace and government policies can combat some aspects of this inequity. Both women interviewed highlight the need for flexible working arrangements that allow them to manage working from home and child or family care. While policies at a workplace level are shown to be affective in some respects, further government policy intervention to mandate reasonable sick day policies could go a long way to improve the physical and mental health of women and those under their care. This post only features a few obstacles that women face during the COVID-19 pandemic. More information can be found in resources below.


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