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Let’s make recovery from the pandemic inclusive and equitable

In March 2020, we were celebrating: women in the workforce was at an all-time high. Then, just weeks later, according to a study by RBC Economics, almost half a million Canadian women lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

The good news is, as of just recently, the number of women in the workforce has returned to pre-pandemic levels. But that’s not the whole story.

Groups that are underrepresented in the workforce like women, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, racialized communities, and members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community have been hit harder by COVID-19.

Many jobs, mostly those held by women, were already at risk of disruption pre-COVID and may not return. Our report on the future of work showed that 35 per cent of Canadian jobs were already headed for automation within the decade, and the pandemic has accelerated that trend. 200,000 jobs still aren’t back in sectors like retail, travel, hospitality—disproportionately affecting less educated women, lower income earners, mothers with young children and women of diverse backgrounds.

It’s proving to be an unequal recovery.

Tools to build a brighter future

At RBC, we have seen community wealth building as one of the tools we can use to move the mark towards stronger communities. Community wealth building involves considering how we can use our business practices to have a more positive economic, cultural, environmental, and social impact.

For RBC, our supplier diversity program is one way of building community wealth. This program makes it easier for diverse suppliers (think women-led social enterprises, Indigenous-owned businesses, etc.) to work with large organizations like RBC.

We know that diversity in our workforce and supply chain is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do so everyone can thrive.

Government, community organizations and employers all have a role to play in helping women and marginalized communities hang in there and return to the workforce. We must help them retrain, reskill, or transition to new sectors.

Let’s give those trying to return to work a real career path. It’s a great loss for our economy when we leave women out: we lose $100 billion every year when there are more men than women in the workforce.

Leading the way and working together

As more organizations lift up women and marginalized communities in their business practices, more people will benefit. RBC is proud to be a member of United Way East Ontario’s community wealth building Champions’ Table, and to sponsor United Way’s work to strengthen local capacity to build community wealth.

By sharing our knowledge and experience at the Champions’ Table, we’re able to help others overcome the barriers to building more inclusive organizations. We can also learn from others to strengthen our own business practices that encourage equity, diversity, and inclusion.

With higher vaccination rates, there’s hope. Schools and daycares are mostly open. And some of the hardest hit sectors are rebounding. Now is our chance to reimagine our communities to be more equitable for everyone, with women leading the way.

To accomplish this, government will need a comprehensive strategy. A strategy that addresses both skills and childcare gaps.

We must keep working to empower all women, especially the most vulnerable, to return to work. Because there is no true success until everyone succeeds.

With the right actions, COVID-19 will just be a temporary setback from which we will rebound even stronger. Let’s work together to make this an inclusive recovery.

Marjolaine Hudon is regional president, Personal and Commercial Banking for Ontario North and East region. She sits on boards of directors for United Way East Ontario, CHEO Foundation and the National Arts Centre Foundation, and is chair of RBC Race for the Kids, benefitting CHEO youth mental health programs.

RBC is a member of United Way East Ontario’s community wealth building Champions’ Table, and supports United Way’s work to strengthen local capacity to build community wealth. Parts of this blog are excerpted from a speech delivered at United Way’s East Ontario Economic Recovery and Inclusive Growth Summit on October 19, 2021, and a Women United Disruptive Dialogue on November 9, 2021.

RBC Economics: