February Labour Report: Spotlight on women and remote/hybrid work

Over the past several years, our workforce has weathered a whirlwind of change, from the upheaval caused by a global pandemic to the rapid evolution of technology. We’ve navigated the shift from mandatory remote work to the gradual return to office-based and hybrid models. After the initial shockwaves of mass layoffs, the employment market rebounded, ushering in labour shortages and an accompanying surge in wages. It seems however, that the employment market may have finally reached a state of equilibrium, or at the very least returned to pre-pandemic normalcy.

According to Statistics Canada’s February labour report, the country saw a modest increase of 41,000 jobs — 4,000 more than the previous month, however it is still not keeping up with the current pace of population expansion. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate experienced a marginal uptick of 0.1%, reaching 5.8%, which is around where it’s been hovering since November of last year.

With the labour report released on International Women’s Day, this month Statistics Canada put the spotlight on women in the workforce and remote/hybrid work. Against this backdrop of change, it’s imperative to delve deeper into the intricacies of our workforce.

Women in the Labour Market

Representation of women in the Canadian workforce has seen steady progress over the years, with women accounting for 47.3% of the Canadian labour force. However significant disparities persist, particularly when it comes to diverse demographic characteristics, male dominated industries, and leadership positions.

Statistics Canada found for instance that the employment rate of Filipino women (87.1%) is notably higher than the national average of 81.6%. Conversely, employment rates are lower for Arab women (60.8%) and West Asian women (66.3%).

Although women have made gains in leadership positions, true equality remains elusive. According to Statistics Canada, women accounted for 35.3% of all those employed in management occupations in 2023, the same share as in 2022, and little changed from the average from 2017 to 2019 (34.9%). Less than a third (30.1%) of those employed in legislative and senior management occupations were women in 2023.

McKinsey & Company’s recently released report on Women in the Workplace 2023 underscores the persistent underrepresentation of women, especially those from diverse backgrounds, in middle management roles — a critical juncture often referred to as the “broken rung” of the corporate ladder. For women of colour, in particular, the path to senior leadership is fraught with obstacles, reflecting systemic inequities. The data from McKinsey & Company reveals a stark disparity, with only 87 women promoted for every 100 men transitioning from entry-level roles to managerial positions. Alarmingly, the gap is widening for women of colour, with just 73 women of colour promoted to manager for every 100 men, a significant decline from the previous year’s figure of 82. This “broken rung” perpetuates a cycle of inequality, leaving women trailing behind and impeding their advancement opportunities.

While the gender wage gap in Canada has seen some reduction over time, it remains a stubborn issue. As of February, core-aged (25 to 54) women earned, on average $0.87 for every dollar earned by men within the same age group. This is a minimal change from previous year ($0.86) and realigns with the pre-pandemic average from 2017 to 2019 of ($0.87).

Interestingly, the extent of the gender wage gap varies significantly across different occupational categories. While women consistently earn less than men across all broad occupational groups, the gap is particularly pronounced in sectors traditionally dominated by men. For instance, in manufacturing and utilities, core-aged women earn an average of 22.4% less than their male counterparts. However, in health occupations — where women represent the majority of the workforce at 82.3% — the wage gap is significantly narrowed with core-aged women earning just 1.6% less on average than men.

Working from Home

Though the proportion of remote workers has dramatically decreased from its peak of 41.1% in April 2020, remote work remains an important feature for many. According to McKinsey & Company, most employees say that the opportunity to work remote and have control over their schedule is a top company benefit, second only to healthcare — even ranking above parental leave and childcare.

As of February, 13.5% of workers are exclusively working from home, with an additional 11.4% enjoying a hybrid arrangement. Statistics Canada found the prevalence of remote worker is higher among women, with 27.8% opting for remote arrangements compared to 22.4% of men. McKinsey & Company points out while women tend to value workplace flexibility higher than men, both men and women cite a better work-life balance as a primary benefit of hybrid and remote work leading to less burnout and fatigue, which is pivotal for organizational success.

For women in particular, the ability to work from home represents more than just flexibility. Remote work environments often translate to fewer microaggressions and heightened levels of psychological safety. Moreover, the benefits of on-site work appears to favour men disproportionately. Compared to their female counterparts, men who work on-site are more likely to be “in the know,” receive adequate mentorship and sponsorship, and recognition for their achievements.

Of course, on-site work continues to offer distinct advantages as well, including easier collaboration and stronger interpersonal connections with colleagues — two factors critical for employee well-being and effectiveness. However, the prevailing culture of on-site work may not fully meet employee expectations. While McKinsey & Company found that 77% of companies tout a robust organizational culture as a core benefit of on-site work, most employees disagree, with only 39% of men and 34% of women stating that feeling connected to their organization’s culture is a key benefit to working on-site.

As for who’s more likely to be found working from home — remote or hybrid arrangements are most prevalent in the sectors of professional, scientific, and technical services (60.6%); finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing (54.5%); and public administration (47.4%). Likewise, public sector employees are more likely to have work from home opportunities (25.9%) compared to their private sector counterparts (21.3%).

Moving Forward

While we navigate the consistently changing landscape of the Canadian labour market, it’s essential to recognize the intersecting dynamics of women’s participation and work from home arrangements. The most successful employers will prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives while embracing the benefits of workplace flexibility. By fostering inclusive work environments and supporting remote work opportunities, organizations can attract and retain top talent while advancing gender equality in the workforce.

“As employers, we’re not only responsible for shaping the future of work but also creating a workplace where everyone can thrive,” says Agilus CEO, Craig Brown. “Within our own organization we believe true inclusivity goes beyond just representation — it’s about creating an environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to bring their authentic selves to work. By fostering a culture of belonging, we not only strengthen our organization, but also cultivate a sense of unity, community and purpose that drives innovation and success.”

Enhancing employee well-being begins with a strong Employee Value Proposition and understanding of the Canadian labour market. With over 47 years of total talent solutions experience, our national team of experts are prepared to help steer you through these challenges and recruit the strongest candidates to help your organization thrive. We’re ready to embark on this journey with you — reach out to us today, and together we will grow your organization and build a more equitable workforce.

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