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UN Global Compact Canada: Addressing Gender Barriers in Crisis Response

Project by UN Global Compact Network Canada Exposes Gender-Based and Systemic Barriers that Hinder Canadian Women’s Ability to Respond to Crises

Releases toolkit to help build more resilient, inclusive workplaces that support women during periods of crisis or instability

TORONTO, March 5, 2024 – In anticipation of International Women’s Day and the collective pursuit of a more inclusive world for women, today, the UN Global Compact Network Canada released findings of a recent project that revealed crises are gendered. The “Accelerating Systemic Change” project exposed fault lines in Canada including gender-based and systemic barriers which hinder women’s ability to effectively respond to crises which are disproportionately affecting them.

“‘Accelerating Systemic Change’ revealed that Canadian women faced a triple burden during the COVID-19 pandemic; they were expected to perform reproductive, productive, and emotional labour. In addition to balancing their jobs, unpaid childcare, and household responsibilities they had to manage the emotional labour that came with increased expectations to be naturally empathetic to co-workers, friends, family, and community,” says Elizabeth Dove, Executive Director, UN Global Compact Network Canada. “As periods of instability are becoming our new normal, it is not just morally right, it makes practical sense to support women in the workplace as their contributions are essential to forging resilient and adaptable teams, workplaces and societies.”

Funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE), “Accelerating Systemic Change: The Case for Gender Equality Leadership for Sustainable Recovery” was conducted by the UN Global Compact Network Canada from September 2021 to February 2024. The project exposed gender-based and systemic challenges and themes that hindered women’s economic empowerment and equal participation in the workforce, including:

  • Canadian women and gender-diverse individuals, particularly those who experience intersecting inequalities based on race, class, disability, education, and migration or immigration status, were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
  • Women in leadership positions felt they were not seen as “real” leaders, pointing towards a gendered belief that women do not possess innate leadership characteristics.
  • Many women felt pressure to be overly empathetic, supportive, and accommodating to others’ needs during the pandemic, as they were seen to “naturally” possess these traits. As a result, there was an amplified expectation for women to carry the burden of emotional labour in the workplace by helping colleagues cope with personal issues. For those in leadership positions, this expectation led to challenges in balancing the expectation to be highly accommodating to their employees while maintaining productive and competitive teams.
  • The pandemic exacerbated the gendered division of childcare and domestic responsibilities, increasing the burden on women to perform unpaid, unrecognized, and undervalued labour.
  • Even for women who did not have children or caregiving responsibilities, there was pressure from family members to perform more domestic labour (cooking, cleaning, gardening, household management, etc.) while working remotely because they spent more time at home.
  • The pandemic forced some women to take on caregiving responsibilities such as tending to elderly family members, assisting with children’s at-home schooling, or helping neighbours or community members facing increased health risks.
  • Racialized, immigrant and newcomer women grappled with amplified socio-cultural expectations set by their families and/or communities that women should cater to domestic and caregiving duties, even during working hours.

Available as a toolkit for businesses, “Accelerating Systemic Change” contains qualitative and quantitative data on the gendered impacts of the pandemic, insights and tips for organizations as they continue to build capacity for gender equality work and 20 case studies from Canadian companies, providing tested best practices on how Canadian workplaces can implement measures to address gender-based barriers and build greater inclusion.

“By taking steps to ensure greater equality for women, non-binary individuals, and systemically underrepresented groups, employers can build more crisis-resilient workplaces and societies,” says Dove. “At a time when the world is facing an unprecedented number of crises, it is imperative that workplaces to become more adaptive and responsive so that women are able to effectively respond.”

To start building a more inclusive and resilient workplace, the Accelerating Systemic Change toolkit can be accessed here.

About UN Global Compact Network Canada

The UN Global Compact Network Canada, is the Canadian chapter of the United Nations Global Compact, supporting Canadian businesses in adopting sustainable business practices through multi-stakeholder collaboration, capacity building, and awareness raising. The Canadian Network encourages companies to align their strategies and operations with the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact on human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption, alongside advancing the Sustainable Development Goals.

About Accelerating Systemic Change

Conducted from September 2021 to February 2024, Accelerating Systemic Change: The Case for Gender Equality Leadership for Sustainable Recovery, included confidential consultation sessions with over 100 women and non-binary individuals to discuss their work experience and/ or participation in the labour market during the pandemic, working with leading organizations to develop case studies featuring best practices that can be scaled, and conducting two rounds of pilot testing of the United Nations Global Compact programme, Target Gender Equality, a capacity building initiative that helps companies set and meet ambitious but realistic representation targets for women on boards and in senior roles.

Media Contact:

Katherine Clark



05 March 2024

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