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opinion

Career coach, HR expert and pay transparency advocate Allison Venditti.Handout

Allison Venditti is an HR professional, career coach, mother of three and advocate for pay transparency and working mothers. She is the founder of both Careerlove.ca and Moms At Work, an online community of more than 5,000 working Canadian women.

Canada has faced recessions before, but this one is different.

The financial crisis of 2008-09 was driven by a contraction in male-dominated industries, such as manufacturing, with recovery fuelled in part by an increase in women in the work force and an uptake in the service industry, which is typically female-dominated. This time, when COVID-19 exploded here in March, lockdowns hit workplaces dominated by women hard and fast, as restaurants, hotels, child-care centres, schools and small businesses closed their doors.

The shutdown of schools and daycares was tough on all working parents. But as much as we liked the illusion of an equitable society, the pressure to balance work, home, child care and homeschooling was undoubtedly heavier on working mothers than working fathers. Even the families who were convinced their relationships were truly balanced before the pandemic found themselves in battles over whose meeting was more important, who was spending more time with the kids, whose job was more demanding and financially secure. I know, mine was one of those families – I was caring for three children under the age of 10 while running my business.

Suddenly, women like me, who have been taught we can do anything, were expected to be able to do it all. And we realized we were not superheroes: We could not be the perfect mother, the perfect teacher, the perfect employee and the perfect partner all at the same time.

However, the pandemic did not create these issues; it simply amplified them.

As families were forced to re-evaluate and prioritize based on need, the systemic failures of our society were exposed: Failure to support women. Failure to support mothers. Failure of companies to close the wage gap and provide pay transparency.

We have watched for years as companies say they will do better, and they have created women’s groups and set targets around diversified executive tables. But we have stayed quiet as those targets are still “to be met,” stayed quiet when companies refuse to track pay equity, offer less money to female employees or fire employees on maternity leave under the guise of organizational restructuring. We’ve said nothing as the hiring manager questions the commitment of female employees with families, yet never once questions the same commitment from male employees.

The pandemic did not create the society that has taught women to blame themselves, to meditate more, to lean in, to not drop the ball and to do it all. We did.

This was the reason why three years ago I started a Facebook community dedicated to supporting mothers in the workplace called Moms At Work. What started as a small group discussing things such as job opportunities, career growth and support, has grown to more than 5,500 women helping each other through job losses because of COVID-19 and bosses who wouldn’t provide flexibility to moms with small children at home. Employment lawyers, accountants and group members who are experts help others figure out which benefits to apply for, how to negotiate salaries and advocate for pay transparency at their workplaces.

As Canada struggles to rebuild from the devastation wrought by the pandemic, we must get it right. The government has committed to creating a national action plan for getting women back into the work force, which the Throne Speech said would be guided by “a task force of experts.”

While I applaud the government for making this commitment, yet another action team led by people who have already succeeded by benefiting from existing social inequities will simply repeat those systemic failures.

This time, I challenge the government and business leaders to re-evaluate their definition of experts.

In this unprecedented time, the true experts and visionaries are not the industry figureheads who broke the glass ceiling. The experts appointed to this task force must be working mothers.

Appoint the women who have attended meetings and made deadlines all while refereeing a fight between siblings. Invite the women who were overwhelmed by seemingly never ending demands of online school, home daycare, and lonely children on top of sales targets and Zoom meetings and had to take a career break. Invite the mothers who had no alternative but to stop working to care for their children when the schools and daycares closed.

The voices of the women who are struggling now are the experts. If we are going to have a “new normal” for working mothers, let us be the ones who define what the new normal will be.

Change the system and erase the systemic failures. Let working mothers speak for working mothers. If you truly want to know how to get us back to work, ask us. For the first time ever, let us lead. We will change the world.

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