A Continued Call and Support for Gender Equality

  • November 17, 2020
  • Sandra Shime

This week, as women worldwide rejoiced watching Kamala Harris shatter the political glass ceiling in the United States, I reflected on a talk given last month by Sheryl Sandberg. This talk took place at the virtual launch event for #StraightTalk, which is a series of interviews organized by the employee resource group Women@Meredith, that discuss new challenges and stressors facing working women during the pandemic. Sandberg implored young women not to do their boyfriends’ laundry. While that might seem trivial, Sandberg used it to express that equity begins at home early citing the idea of the “double shift”. The “double shift” posits that women work two shifts; one at work during the day and the other at night with family. In a report entitled Women in the Workplace, by LeanIn and McKinsey & Co, Sandberg affirmed what many of us know: that women perform 70 hours of housework and childcare each week while the average man completes 50 hours of the same work. Recently, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce She-Covery Project, which focuses on the gendered economic impacts of Covid-19 in the province, found that, due to Covid-19, women’s labour force participation was at an all-time record low. The pandemic has shifted childcare primarily back onto mothers weakening decades of progress towards gender equality.

I can attest to the existence of the “double shift”. I spent 8 years working full-time hours as an adjudicator with no pension, no vacation days, no sick days, and no statutory holiday pay, so I could balance childrearing and work. I was elated when Justice R. Abella, writing for the majority, agreed with the claimants in Fraser v. Canada (Attorney General), 2020 SCC 28 (CanLII), and concluded that the RCMP breached s. 15(1) of the Charter by using the temporary reduction in working hours as a basis to impose less favorable pension consequences on women. In the decision, the majority noted that this “arrangement has a disproportionate impact on women and perpetuates their historical disadvantage.”

While I can never recoup the financial loss related to lack of pension benefits and paid days off, I am hopeful that this case is a significant step forward for women who attempt to balance childcare duties with work obligations. Women must continue to press for flexible work, equal pay, and reliable childcare in court cases and in their workplaces so that we call all strive to shatter the glass ceiling. We all want to experience the incredible joy in raising our children, something I have experienced first- hand with two children of my own, but maintain our professional careers. 

I recently spent an evening on a Women’s Bar Association Zoom call where one of the women was in the laundry room folding laundry with a child on her shoulder during the call. Not one of us found that unusual or strange. It could have been many of us folding laundry and holding a child on that call. Despite the fact that the virtual meeting allowed the woman to participate, she could not throw off the yoke of housework and childcare responsibilities. While many of us have great partners who participate in child rearing and house tasks, the burden of organizing the home and childrearing responsibilities continues to fall primarily on mothers.   

As we celebrate the success of women moving up the career ladder and shattering glass ceilings in politics and elsewhere, we must also continue to fight for equal pay, safe, reliable and financially accessible childcare options, and equal participation in home and childcare duties. Without financial resources, childcare options, and equality at home, women with children will continue to lose ground in the workplace during this pandemic and for many years in the future.  

I agree with Sheryl and say to all the young women out there: do not do your boyfriend’s laundry. Spend time on your career by networking, writing articles, attending seminars in person or virtually, and arguing cases in court. Develop core skills by spending time with women and men who can teach you these skills.  If we women stay in the workplace, female voices get to be part of the decision-making process enabling women to balance childrearing and work responsibilities in the future. Female leaders can be decision-makers on issues such as pension consequences, flexibility at work, reduced or part-time hours, and promotions.

And so yes, Sheryl, I have decided that I must be part of the solution as a senior female in law. I plan to spend my time, and the opportunities the pandemic has afforded me, fighting for women’s issues and developing my core skills as a leader. And I will also listen to Sheryl and I will no longer do my husband’s laundry.     

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