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While many Canadians have been forced to solve problems and mend careers in the wake of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, women have been hit particularly hard.

Suphansa Subruayying/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

When Gabriela Love was laid off from Air Canada a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, they didn’t fully appreciate the gravity of the situation.

Love, with eight years of experience in the now decimated travel industry, decided the best route to a job would be to try a new career.

But when every position seemed to require specific experience or education that Love didn’t have, their anxiety shot sky high. How to pay the bills? Love stumbled across a 12-week online technology sales training program offered by Uvaro Inc. and decided it was worth the investment.

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Within months, Love found a position in sales at a Toronto tech start-up and they say it’s a great fit.

“It was definitely a big lesson,” says Love from their Vancouver home. “Even when things get very uncertain and you really don’t know if things will work out, if you put yourself out there and actively look for solutions, you’re going to be able to solve it.”

While many Canadians have been forced to solve problems and mend careers in the wake of the lingering pandemic, women have been hit particularly hard. According to an RBC economics analysis published in March 2021, almost half a million Canadian women who lost jobs at the start of the pandemic in 2020 still hadn’t returned back to work nearly 10 months later.

Shadi McIsaac, CEO and co-founder of RBC subsidiary Ownr, which helps new businesses register and incorporate, says she isn’t surprised that many women have decided to do a one-eighty by recasting their careers in different industries or launching their own businesses. Looking at recent Ownr data, McIsaac says women across all industries are making the switch – they’re even seeing women with corporate, nine-to-five careers opting to give them up and go the entrepreneurial route.

With an increase in family responsibilities or lack of childcare during lockdowns, women have been looking for more work-life flexibility, McIsaac says.

“Whether it was a forced pause or not, having the time to think about what you’re going to do next has been one of the positives [of the pandemic],” she adds.

That’s exactly how Andria St-Pierre from Canmore, Alta., now feels. When she was laid off from her sales and marketing job with Fairmont Hotels in 2020, she felt unmoored. With 12 years’ experience in the industry, she wasn’t sure what to try next. She looked into hiring a life coach and had a eureka moment.

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“When I started reading about the specific life coaches’ certifications, I [thought], ‘I don’t think I need a life coach. I think I need to become one,’” she says.

One year later, St-Pierre already has a roster of clients and works full-time from home. She says it was a perfect pivot because not only does she love her work, but her background in sales and marketing helped her launch faster. It also didn’t hurt that she already had a large professional network.

All of her clients are people she’s met through the travel industry.

St-Pierre says she thinks her pivot will be a permanent one. In fact, when her pre-pandemic employer came calling months after her pivot, St-Pierre says she turned the position down.

“I felt it in my entire body – I didn’t need to take it,” she says. “I can go all in on me.”

Susan Latremoille, co-founder and partner of Next Chapter Lifestyle Advisors in Toronto, says she has helped a number of women pivot in the past couple of years. Many felt stuck doing work they didn’t enjoy and she helps them to “rewire” rather than retire.

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As an example, Latermoille points to a dentist client who left her practice mid-pandemic, pivoting to a job helping dental schools revise their curriculum.

“People get on a treadmill of education and getting a job – and pretty soon they find themselves dropped into a profession before having a chance to really look at themselves to see what they’re cut out for,” Latermoille says.

While pandemic pivots often entail utilizing established skills in a different way, sometimes it can be about taking a leap to something completely different.

In early August 2021, Shasta Townsend of Ajax, Ont., closed her struggling, 18-year-old yoga studio, sold her home and hit the road to travel across Canada with her husband. At 47, she’s charting a new career path as an Instagram influencer and creating content for luxury resorts and hotels.

She admits her friends thinks she’s crazy for closing the business, selling the house and starting over at mid-life.

“But I was either going to break out or break down,” she says. “This is the essence of who I am and what humans are meant to do – connect and experience things.”

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Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on the hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback on the series? Email us at GWC@globeandmail.com.

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