Women in B.C. have fared worse than men during the pandemic, study finds

At the onset of the pandemic in March, 60 per cent more jobs were lost by women than men in the province, according to a new report by the B.C. Women’s Health Foundation.

The study found that women have been negatively affected by COVID-19 to a disproportionate degree, as they are more likely to work public-facing positions and were forced to take on increased responsibilities as the pandemic deepened. 

In B.C., 53 per cent of women work in either retail, health care, education, or accommodation and food services — four sectors that were the first to feel the brunt job losses, and for a longer time, according to Dr. Marina Adshade, UBC professor and the report’s economist.

As a result, the report says the unemployment rate for women soared to 28 per cent in April — while the provincial rate was comparatively much lower at 11 per cent, according to the B.C. government’s jobs portal Work B.C.

The nature of those jobs also made women more susceptible to becoming infected by the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“They have a lot of dealings with the public and are at a heightened risk of COVID-19 as a result,” said Adshade, who analysed numerous data sets, including from Statistics Canada, and conducted a review of academic literature to produce the report.

In the retail sector, women are more likely to work public-facing positions, the report said. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Even in industries that employ equal rates of men and women, Adshade says the specific roles that women fill are higher risk. She points to the retail sectors as an example, where men will often fill management roles and women work in sales or cashier roles.

“They [men] are not as likely to be… on the shop floor dealing with the general public the way that women are,” she said.

The pandemic also added extra layers of caregiving responsibilities to parents as schools and recreation were closed. 

Working mothers aged 24-55 lost 26 per cent of their work hours in April to take on those extra responsibilities, the report found — while working men, by comparison, lost about 14 per cent of their work hours.

“There’s a huge number of women in this province… who are still out in the workplace,” said Adshade, adding these women also have to balance childcare, seniors care and taking care of sick family members.

“This has been so much more difficult for those women.”

Adshade hopes the report creates a space for discussion.

“We need to have a specific focus on women’s health and how it’s affected women,” said Adshade.

“We need to do that, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but in terms of the strength of our economy here in B.C., we just can’t afford to ignore that.”

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