When Alicia Dempster started her maternity leave in June 2019, she never dreamed that she would still be at home two and a half years later.
The Stouffville, Ont., woman fully intended to return to her job as an event planner for an area municipality after 15 months at home caring for her infant son and his toddler brother.
But COVID-19 derailed those plans. When her planned return-to-work date rolled around, the complete absence of public events meant the job she once had no longer existed. The alternative work her employer offered her — cutting grass and picking weeds with the parks department — seemed a poor match for her skills, so she opted to stay home “just a little longer.”
Now, her sons are five and two and a half and the Omicron variant is on the rise.
Like many Canadian women, Dempster is not only concerned about how long she’s been out of the workforce, but should she find a job, she knows she’ll be juggling the demands of work and parenting, including COVID tests and mandatory isolation every time one of her children gets a cough or the sniffles.
While recent data suggests a jobs recovery for working age women, the statistics fail to capture the whole picture, one in which many women are still struggling to balance work and family life.
Job quality over quantity
Early in the pandemic, much was written about the disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on the finances and career prospects of Canadian women.
Female-dominated industries like accommodation and food services were the hardest-hit by restrictions and lockdowns, and many women also suffered from a lack of child care as daycares and schools shut down in those early months.
Even one year on, in March 2021, employment among women remained about 5.3 per cent below where it sat in February 2020, compared to a drop of about 3.7 per cent for men, according to a report from the Labour Market Information Council.
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But as the economy gradually reopened over the summer and fall, women’s prospects improved. Canada as a whole caught up with its pre-pandemic job numbers in September of this year, and according to Statistics Canada, the only age group of women that has yet to recover to its pre-pandemic employment level is the 55-plus category.
“Now if you look at younger women, their employment rate is higher than it was before the pandemic. A little more than one percentage point higher,” said University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe.
“It’s the same story for the 25-54 age group — their employment rate is one percentage point higher.”
But Armine Yalnizyan, a Toronto-based economist and the Atkinson Foundation’s Fellow on the Future of Workers, cautions against declaring the “she-cession” over. She pointed out that statistics offer an aggregate look at a population, and many individual women are still struggling with the impacts of the pandemic on their careers and finances.
In addition, Yalnizyan said, it’s crucial to remember that Statistics Canada employment data only looks at the “quantity” of jobs, not “quality” — a key part of the story when it comes to COVID-19 and its affect on gender and the workforce.
“The quality of work question is really, really important to the question of what’s been happening to women,” she said.
“For the ‘I’m not able to get a promotion, I’ve had to change jobs or I have stress about possibly losing my job, I’m barely hanging on because my kids are home half the time,’ the binary of ‘are you employed or aren’t you employed’ isn’t a very good metric.”
Impact on working mothers
Before the pandemic hit, Stephanie Bakker-Houpf of High River, Alta., was excited to finally have time to focus on getting her creative consultancy and content management business off the ground after years of putting her own career dreams on the back-burner to raise her two now-teenage daughters.
But not only did her bread-and-butter contracts with musician and entertainer clients dry up in the absence of live performances last year, the divorced Bakker-Houpf found herself sacrificing precious work time as she helped her daughters with home-schooling and supported them through all of the disruptions and anxieties that go along with being a kid in a pandemic.
“Kids today are constantly dealing with uncertainty and their lives being interrupted. And yet, we as moms are still supposed to be able to function the same way and show up at our jobs the same way,” Bakker-Houpf said.
Jennifer Hargreaves, founder and CEO of diversity recruitment organization Tellent — which aims to help women in career transition find new opportunities — said while it’s true that as many women may be working now as before the pandemic, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
In fact, Hargreaves said she worries Canadian working women may be heading into another crisis in 2022, as employers begin to urge employees to come back to the office on at least a part-time basis even as schools and daycares continue to struggle with COVID cases and children under five remain unvaccinated.
“What’s frightening is some employers seem eager to say, ‘we’re going back to normal this year,’ ” Hargreaves said.
“Because what I actually see on the ground is more and more women reaching out and getting mental health support, because they’ve just got to a tipping point with burnout. And women are taking stress leave.”
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If women have one thing working in their favour, Hargreaves said, it’s the fact that employers across a wide range of industries are struggling with systemic labour shortages right now.
She said she hopes that will spur employers to recognize that the way to retain talent is to continue to prioritize flexibility.
“I hope employers can take the lessons learned during COVID-19 and start implementing them and doing that culture shift,” Hargreaves said.
“I think they’re absolutely going to need to do that in order to stay agile in this new economy.”
China cuts rates on policy loans for first time since April 2020 – CNBC
China’s central bank on Monday cut the borrowing costs of its medium-term loans for the first time since April 2020, defying market expectations, to cushion any economic slowdown.
The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said it was lowering the interest rate on 700 billion yuan ($110.19 billion) worth of one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF) loans to some financial institutions by 10 basis points to 2.85% from 2.95% in previous operations.
Thirty-four out of the 48 traders and analysts, or 70% of all participants, polled by Reuters last week predicted no change to the MLF rates, although a rising number of market participants start to forecast a rate cut.
With 500 billion yuan worth of MLF loans maturing on Monday, the operation resulted a net 200 billion yuan of fresh fund injections into the banking system.
The central bank also lowered the borrowing costs of seven-day reverse repurchase agreements, or repos, by the same margin to 2.10% from 2.20%, when it offered another 100 billion yuan worth of reverse repos into the banking system on the day, compared with 10 billion worth of such short-term liquidity tool due on Monday.
Credit Suisse chairman resigns after company probe – BBC News
The chairman of global banking giant Credit Suisse, Antonio Horta-Osorio, has resigned with immediate effect after an internal company probe.
He was reportedly found to have broken the UK’s Covid-19 quarantine rules.
The former boss of Lloyds Banking Group joined Credit Suisse after a series of scandals at the Swiss bank.
Now, Mr Horta-Osorio, who was the chairman of Credit Suisse for less than a year, has been replaced by board member Axel Lehmann.
“I regret that a number of my personal actions have led to difficulties for the bank and compromised my ability to represent the bank internally and externally,” Horta-Osorio said in a statement issued by the bank.
“I therefore believe that my resignation is in the interest of the bank and its stakeholders at this crucial time,” he added.
Last month, it was reported by the Reuters news agency that a preliminary investigation by Credit Suisse had found that Mr Horta-Osorio had breached Covid-19 rules.
He reportedly attended the Wimbledon tennis finals in July at a time when the UK’s Covid-19 rules required him to be in quarantine.
Speaking to the BBC, a spokesperson for Credit Suisse said that the bank would give no further details on Mr Horta-Osorio’s resignation other than those in its statement.
They also said that there were no plans to release the findings of the investigation.
Before joining Credit Suisse Mr Horta-Osorio was chief executive of British lender Lloyds Banking Group.
He was brought in to lead Switzerland’s second-largest bank to help clean up a corporate culture marred by its involvement with collapsed investment company Archegos and insolvent supply chain finance firm Greensill Capital.
In February 2020, then-Credit Suisse chief executive Tidjane Thiam resigned after a scandal revealed the bank had spied on senior employees.
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UK government to cut funding for BBC – Mail on Sunday report
Britain’s government will cut the BBC’s funding by ordering a two-year freeze on the fee that people pay to watch the broadcaster, the Mail on Sunday reported.
The future of the licence-payer funded British Broadcasting Corporation is a perpetual topic of political debate, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government most recently suggesting its funding needs to be reformed.
Set against an inflation rate expected to reach a 30-year high of 6% or more in April, freezing the licence cost at its current 159 pounds ($217.40) would provide some relief to consumers battling sharply rising costs of living.
But it would also be a large blow to the BBC’s finances as it tries to compete with privately funded news outlets and the likes of Netflix and other entertainment streaming services funded by consumer subscriptions.
In November, the government launched negotiations to agree how much the TV licence would cost, part of a five year funding settlement due to begin in April 2022.
The Digital, Media, Culture and Sport department declined to comment when asked about the Mail on Sunday report.
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said that the licence fee settlement would be the last such agreement and tweeted a link to the Mail on Sunday article.
“Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content,” she said on Twitter.
The BBC declined to comment on Dorries’ tweet or the Mail on Sunday report.
The opposition Labour Party said the funding cut was politically motivated.
“The Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary seem hell-bent on attacking this great British institution because they don’t like its journalism,” said Lucy Powell, Labour lawmaker and culture policy chief.
The BBC’s news output is regularly criticised by UK political parties. Its coverage of Brexit issues – central to Johnson’s government – has long been seen as overly critical by supporters of leaving the European Union.
Last week, one Conservative lawmaker said BBC coverage relating to parties in Johnson’s Downing Street residence during coronavirus lockdowns amounted to a “coup attempt” against the prime minister.
($1 = 0.7314 pounds)
(Reporting by William James. Editing by Jane Merriman)
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