The pandemic has not been good for anyone, but it’s been especially tough on women.
Numerous studies from around the world show women are being laid off at higher rates than men or forced to abandon their careers in droves to take care of their children.
Unless countries address the effects of the pandemic on women, more female workers will be forced to leave the workforce, setting back their gains by decades.
Who knows how long it will take now for women to enjoy wage and career opportunity parity with men?
“Even at double the rate of historical progress, the OECD will not catch up to its pre-pandemic equality growth path until 2030,” says a March report from PricewaterhouseCoopers on the impact of COVID-19 on women in the workforce.
Another March report, this one from RBC Economics, points out: “The longer these women are out of the labour force, the greater the risk of skills erosion, which could potentially hamper their ability to get rehired or to transition to different roles as the economy evolves.”
Meanwhile, an earlier report from RBC Economics warned that the pandemic has cut women’s participation in the Canadian Labour force to its lowest level since the mid-1980s.
Still, there’s a lot that can be done.
The federal government demonstrated that in its April budget, by investing $30 billion over the next five years in early childhood education to help women with youngsters re-enter the workforce by providing them with affordable, accessible, quality day care spaces.
And there is room for the private sector to step up, too.
Indeed, one of the more innovative and exciting projects to help women recover from the pandemic was smartly launched a year ago by University Canada West.
It’s called the Women in Leadership MBA Award.
The university, which has a strong, four-pronged MBA program, invested half a million dollars in scholarships for more than 20 female students.
The goal? To “empower women leaders,” says Cyndi McLeod, the CEO of Global University Systems Canada, which operates the university.
“This scholarship will enable more women to reach their academic, career and personal goals, which is something that’s close to my heart and (a) priority for GUS,” she says. “We can’t lose sight to continue stressing the importance of gender equality.”
Indeed, the university’s goal of empowering female business leaders, is one the entire business world should embrace if it wants to see growth.
“If we had greater gender equality in the workplace, global annual GDP could grow an extra $38 trillion by 2025,” according to the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
In Canada alone, that could add $150 billion to this country’s national GDP by 2026.
But to get that equality, women must be empowered with education, support and confidence.
That is something McLeod knows only too well from her own experience.
The CEO garnered her education, which includes an MA from the Asia Pacific University and a stint studying Mandarin at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, while she was a single mom of two.
She not only wants to see women “get to the table” in boardrooms and executive suites. She wants to “ensure they have a voice at the table.
“It’s one thing to get there and another challenge to get yourself heard,” says the CEO who has worked all over the world, including in Saudi Arabia and Libya.
In her career she has noted that most companies “are owned by men and women are doing incredible work in the background.”
Why, she wondered, don’t women start more businesses? Perhaps the reason is women are not as likely to invest in themselves or they don’t have the confidence.
That is where education and networking opportunities come in, says McLeod, who co-founded GLOW ED, a networking organization that “is committed to fostering the advancement of women in the field, creating more business opportunities for women and supporting disadvantaged women in countries around the world.”
Among the incredible women selected for the award is Marie-Pier Chouinard.
The founder of Brilliance & Melrose, which designs charming skating-inspired jewelry as well as cutting-edge clothes and accessories, says she is grateful for the opportunity to expand her business knowledge as she grows her business.
Chouinard has worked as a professional figure skater with Phantasialand and Atayde Productions and as a designer at Groupe Dynamite.
So, you think that would be enough for her to have been taken seriously in the business world when she launched her own company focussing on skate-inspired fashion and accessories.
But that was not the case. “A lot of people didn’t think I had it in me to manage this type of company,” she says.
That made her start thinking about getting an MBA.
So, when the pandemic struck and the bottom fell out of Chouinard’s business in a single month, she didn’t perceive it as a setback. Instead, she saw it as the opportunity to get the business degree she felt she needed to grow her company once the pandemic ended.
“It was perfect timing,” she says of being offered the MBA scholarship.
“I needed this program for the content, more than for the paper or the title. I needed to understand the little details of the business world that I could not see as a creative person. The MBA delivered that,” says Chouinard, who has almost completed her degree.
But Chouinard did not wait until graduating to put her degree to good use.
“Basically, the whole year I would learn something and put it in motion right away,” she says. “I see the results right away. I learn and implement.”
That is, in fact, one of the goals of the university’s MBA program.
“We’re an applied school,” says Midya U, the university’s director of marketing and communications.
That focus, in fact, was what enabled the university to pivot around the pandemic and see an opportunity to mentor women leaders, she says.
“We’re very flexible at helping students in uncertain times.”
Indeed, University Canada West partners with companies such as Facebook, IBM, Amazon, Digital Marketing institute, Riipen and Shopify to give students real work with real businesses.
And that is help Chouinard appreciates. Like McLeod, she has endured the challenges of being a woman in the male-dominated business world.
For example, one of her class’s team projects was to work with a company. There were three on her team, two women and a man. But, says Chouinard: “Our first reaction was to think the male should be the spokesperson,” to liaise with the company.
Why? The company had a board of 10 people, she explains. “Not one of them was a woman.”
Just as Chouinard saw the pandemic as an opportunity to press for more empowerment for herself, so too does the University Canada West see it as an opportunity for women.
“We asked ourselves how do we help Canada recover from this crisis,” says U. “We want to be part of the solution.”
There’s a lot of work to be done.
As studies show, 53 per cent of degree holders are female, but women make up only a minority of corporate leaders. Indeed, only 21.3 per cent of corporate directors in Canada are women.
And that tendency to pass over “a more qualified female candidate in favour of a less qualified male,” is something that is costing the business world trillions of dollars, says a 2019 study from S&P Global Market Intelligence.
The study of Russell 3000 companies (considered a benchmark of the entire U.S. stock market) showed that those with female CFOs generated $1.8 trillion more in gross profit than their sector average.
That’s not all the study found. Firms run by female CEOs saw more value appreciation.
How could this be? When the researchers looked at executive biographies, they found that women with richer talent were being passed over for men taken from a pool that was “overfished.”
One MBA scholarship may not change the business world overnight.
But a close look at the female recipients of the scholarship program is inspirational.
These women are sure to be leaders in their fields.
“They are all leaders in the community in their own way,” says U, who describes the recipients as “super-human women, juggling full-time work and children,” with their studies.
Sounds like all women in the working world.
And if anything, that is the message of the university’s MBA scholarship: It’s time to recognize these women and empower them.
To learn more about this inspiring program, select a course package on University Canada West’s school page.