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When I invited personal finance writer Rubina Ahmed-Haq to do a guest Q&A for the newsletter, she suggested we discuss the precarious financial situation many women find themselves in during the pandemic. As you’ll see below, Ms. Ahmed-Haq has some strong opinions on what women need to do to build their financial security.

Among them is a thought I haven’t heard expressed before – that when women put their children’s needs ahead of their own, it can leave them with less money as they age. Here’s our e-mail exchange, including some tips on what women can do to build back their finances.

Q: I’ve heard the economic downturn caused by the pandemic described as a “she-cession.” What can you tell us about how women have been affected in a financial sense?

A: Women’s participation in the work force has fallen to levels that we haven’t seen since 1986. Early in the pandemic, working moms reported feeling overwhelmed and felt they had no other option but to quit their jobs and manage what was happening at home. During the pandemic, restaurants, accommodation, retail and food services have been most affected by lockdown measures. These industries are dominated by women. This means less money for women to save to pay down debt and lost opportunities for promotion and higher pay.

Q: What do you suggest for women who had to drop out of the work force temporarily and now want to get back in and address the setbacks to their savings, career and more?

A: To not let the pandemic be an excuse for an employer to offer you less pay. If you’re applying for jobs, find out what the market rate is and ask for the same. The reality is when a woman is back at work, she will have to save more to make up for the fewer contributions to her RRSP and long-term savings. Make savings a priority when you start earning again.

Q: How important to the post-pandemic economic recovery is it for women to get back into the work force?

A: It’s vital. Pre-pandemic, women made up more than 50 per cent of the Canadian work force. Once we get back to our new normal, if women do not return, many key industries will suffer. Health care, hospitality, child care, food services and elderly care. The economy depends heavily on services provided by female-dominated industries. Imagine not having access to a local child-care centre, how that would affect a parent’s ability to do their job and the ripple effect that would have on that family and the economy.

Q: What are some ways women were financially behind men even before the pandemic?

A: Pay equity is one of the biggest challenges women face. Women, on average, make 87 cents for every dollar earned by a man. This pay gap worsens as women climb the proverbial corporate ladder. The average female CEO makes 64 cents compared to a man in the same job. On top of being paid less, women are twice as likely to work part-time and are more likely to take time away to care for children. This while trying to save for a possible longer retirement than men. Women on average live longer.

Q: Can you give us a couple of personal finance tips for women that can help them address economic inequality?

A: If possible, save more than your male counterparts for retirement. One study suggests women should be saving 18 per cent of their gross salary every year they work to make up for the retirement savings gap and to fund what will most likely be a longer retirement. As well, women need to put their savings goals ahead of their children’s. Women tend to put their kids’ needs above their own, but financially speaking, that can leave them with less money as they age. If you take time away from work for your kids, make sure you talk to your partner about your savings goals. Don’t fall behind in years you are not earning. Setting up a spousal RRSP is a perfect remedy to stay focused on saving.

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