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A woman wearing a mask stands at Bay and King streets under a ticker displaying information from the Toronto Stock Exchange in Toronto, on Nov. 5, 2020.

Mark Blinch/Globe and Mail

Pamela Jeffery is the founder of The Prosperity Project. Subo Sinnathamby is senior vice-president of nuclear refurbishment at Ontario Power Generation.

One of the few bright spots of COVID-19 is that it has highlighted an ugly truth and created a sense of urgency to address it: Working women face disproportionate challenges.

Policy-makers and employers are responding by introducing accommodations that will shape the future of work. Huge public-sector investments in infrastructure, together with rapid advancements in science and technology, are also helping shape the future of work.

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We believe this provides women with unprecedented opportunities to pivot into careers based in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, and in the skilled trades.

Since the early 1980s, women have been graduating in greater numbers than men from our universities and colleges. Speaking personally, we have enjoyed our careers and motherhood – with the inevitable ups and downs. But the ups vanished when COVID-19 hit.

Working mothers, especially those with children under 18, felt trapped. Our research this winter revealed that working mothers were much more likely to be experiencing higher levels of stress (52 per cent), anxiety (47 per cent) and depression (43 per cent) compared with working fathers (37 per cent, 40 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively) during the second wave.

But we believe the future is bright. Perhaps you are a working mother who would like a better job. Maybe you are one of the 100,000 working-age women who has completely left the work force since the pandemic started and are not even trying to get a job any more. We believe you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to push the reset button on your career and switch into a higher-paying job or sector as we emerge from the pandemic. You can build a better career, a better future for your family and a better Canada.

We’re facing the greatest challenges of our generation. Supporting the nation’s economic recovery, while tackling climate change, requires the talents and problem-solving of women working in all fields and at all levels where decisions are made.

With one of us serving as the senior vice-president leading one of Canada’s largest clean energy infrastructure projects, the Darlington Nuclear Refurbishment, and as an engineer, mother of two girls, an immigrant and a woman of colour, it is encouraging that companies like Ontario Power Generation believe attracting and retaining women is a business-critical issue. But we are still very mindful of the challenges. Mentors, families, educators, governments and employers all have a role in helping ensure women are aware of the opportunities and have access to the tools and support they need to succeed.

This is why The Prosperity Project launched the It’s Not Complicated campaign to follow the tradition of Rosie the Riveter, an advertising icon who inspired women to take manufacturing roles during the Second World War. (The Globe and Mail is national media sponsor for the campaign.) It worked then – we won, and women’s participation in the work force rose. We can do it again.

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The campaign encourages young women to get on track early and set themselves up for careers where women are under-represented: STEM, skilled trades and leadership roles. It also encourages women already in the work force to seize the opportunity to raise their skills and pivot into new careers.

The Canada-United States Council for the Advancement of Women reported that women in STEM jobs earn 35 per cent more than their counterparts in non-STEM employment. Last month, the Ontario government announced new measures to modernize and streamline apprenticeship training. Data suggest that the need to replace retiring workers is greater for skilled-trades jobs than for other occupations.

Black, racialized and newcomer women often face even greater barriers to equal and full participation in the labour market. Our research showed that racialized women were more interested in looking at STEM fields (30 per cent) than white women (14 per cent). Eighty-eight per cent of racialized women were looking to upgrade their skills versus 63 per cent of white women.

Younger women were enthusiastic when it came to upgrading their skills – 95 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds were looking to improve their skills. This suggests to us that an inclusive recovery, fuelled by equal access to jobs, promotions and re-skilling/up-skilling, regardless of skin colour, is within reach.

The Prosperity Project was founded two months into the pandemic to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Canadian women, whom we feared would be disproportionately affected. Many business leaders care and want to do better. They agree with our founding tenet: When women succeed, we all prosper. After all, It’s Not Complicated.

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