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The Prosperity Project

A survey released in March by The Prosperity Project paints a bleak picture of declining mental health among Canadian working women, many of them in service industries like Canada’s spas, restaurants and resorts – hard-hit sectors that have suffered unprecedented job losses as a result of the COVID-19 shutdowns.

Pamela Jeffery, founder of The Prosperity Project, explains, “We can’t have economic recovery without increased labour force participation of women, and we can’t have women in the workforce without childcare.”

Her non-profit organization includes a list of women that reads like a who’s who of Canadian influencers. Together they launched The Prosperity Project in May 2020 and embarked on a mission to ensure women are not left behind as Canada restarts its economy.

The group already has gained remarkable traction, plunging into a five-pronged plan intended to help non-profit organizations to meet funding challenges, deliver research and raise awareness of the effect COVID-19 has on family life, work/life integration and women’s responsibilities at home. They recently launched into a new awareness drive – modelled on the famous “Rosie the Riveter” poster campaign from World War II – that promotes women’s workforce participation and advancement; and they have introduced a matching program that pairs business experts with non-profit organizations serving women.

Survey finds that working moms are experiencing much higher levels of stress
The Prosperity Project also released a second mental health survey, following one that ran at the beginning of the pandemic. Conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights, in partnership with CIBC, this year’s survey is a cross-country poll of more than 1,000 adults. It found that women were much more likely than men to feel anxious, stressed and depressed during the pandemic’s second wave as compared to the first. These feelings were even higher among working mothers, who reported experiencing higher levels of stress (52%), anxiety (47%) and depression (43%), compared to working women without children (36%; 38%; 29%). These levels are also higher when compared to working fathers (37%; 40%; 27%).

In addition to worries about helping with schoolwork and their children’s safety, mothers are also more likely to feel guilty about not spending time with their children and are more likely to turn down jobs or promotions to spend more time with their family. The survey also found that, during the pandemic’s second wave, women were more likely to consider quitting their job, ask for reduced working hours or take a position with different working conditions.

“Parents – mothers and fathers – need flexibility, quality and affordability in childcare. A lack of childcare is not a women’s issue: it is an issue for all working Canadians who can’t be the professionals they want to be in their workplaces without supports in place based on their particular needs,” explains Jeffery.

Working parents were much more concerned about financial burdens, repaying debts and household bills, than those who didn’t have children.

Four in 10 respondents among both men and women say they had to use their savings during the pandemic to make ends meet. Working parents, more so working mothers (48%, compared to 44% of working fathers), reported having to dip into their savings considerably more than those without children (35% women; 38% men).

According to the survey, 44% of women feel that they will face an economic recession and lack of job prospects once the pandemic is over. Racialized, low-income and immigrant women have been especially hard hit, with 41% believing that women are less likely to be considered for jobs after the pandemic (compared to 29% of white women).

The solution lies in a national childcare program
As the country grapples with a third wave, Jeffery believes there may yet be hope for women if the federal government and its partners implement a long-promised national childcare program. It’s been a key focus of The Prosperity Project’s national
advocacy efforts.

In its second COVID-19 budget released this March, Ontario earmarked funding for small businesses to assist with pandemic expenses and created a new job training tax credit. It also included extended payments to families with children through the Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” says Jeffery, who hoped it would encourage the federal government to act on childcare. “Childcare will improve women’s employment. It will improve their mental health. It will improve family flexibility – for women and men. This absolutely needs to happen.”

Her group wants to see a plan on childcare and early childhood education that will nurture early development and get kids on track for education at a young age. Secondly, the group is encouraging employers to apply a gender lens to understand that their employees have different experiences and needs – especially working parents. It’s also about paying childcare and elder care workers better.

Jeffery explains, “Men often have different needs than women. Racialized women have different needs than other women. We are encouraging employers to take the time to understand what their different employees, segments or populations need in
order to be successful and help us achieve the economic recovery we need.”

In 1997, the Quebec Government implemented $5 a day childcare as part of its new Family Policy, offering all-income-level families the access to affordable childcare as a way to boost births while encouraging more women to enter the workforce. It’s the kind of model The Prosperity Project would like to see across Canada.

A 2017 study by McKinsey reported that advancing women’s equality in Canada has the potential to add 0.6% annual incremental GDP growth totalling $150 billion by 2026. The study pointed to the most important ways to grow the economy: increase women’s labour force participation rate by three percentage points, increase the number of women in targeted sectors such as natural resource development and technology, and increase working women’s working hours by 50 minutes per week.

Resetting work and personal lives to a “new normal” needs leadership that’s grounded in empathy, compassion and courage, says Jeffery, noting that leaders who invest in their employees, build attractive workplace cultures and remain authentic and transparent are the hallmarks of successful companies.

So how can the spa industry help? Jeffery points out that despite almost insurmountable challenges, spas have shown their resilience in riding out the pandemic – from boosting online sales to pivoting to new business models. She hopes they’re willing to volunteer their insights and experiences with non-profits that serve women and girls, as part of The Prosperity Project’s Matching Campaign. Spas and industry partners interested in offering their insights to these types of non-profit agencies can get more information from The Prosperity Project website at: canadianprosperityproject.ca/matching.

“We have to start now to take action that can turn this into something that is tangible for the women out there. When women succeed, we all prosper,” Jeffery concludes.

Jana Manolakos
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