How to: Retaining Women in the Workforce

19 March 2024

RBC reported in April 2020 that Canadian women’s workforce participation had dipped to 55% for the first time since the mid 1980s, and in the pandemic, some working women had opted to walk away from trying to continually balance their growing professional and personal obligations. Since then, Ontario women’s labour force participation rate has increased to 61.5% in 2022 compared to men’s labour force participation of 70%, yet the same stressors that pushed women out of the labour force during the pandemic are still present: women are three times as likely to leave high-contact jobs during a crisis, those jobs were disproportionately affected by the pandemic and women specifically often hold high contact roles like teachers, retail associates or hospitality roles. A survey by Capterra Inc found that:

  • 46% of working mothers felt more overlooked for promotion opportunities
  • 39% felt less included in projects
  • 36% felt like a less worthy member of the workplace team
  • 35% of female respondents reported career plans affected by dreams of having a family
  • 35% of working mothers felt their employers provided no support after sharing news of pregnancy

McKinsey & Co along with found that during the pandemic, mothers and women were 3x more likely than fathers to be responsible for the bulk of housework and caregiving & 1.5x more likely than fathers to spend an extra 3+ hours a day (equivalent to 20 hours a week or half of a full-time job) on housework and childcare.

 To address this and retain women, especially working mothers, in the workforce, here’s a comprehensive guide based on findings from Capterra Inc., RBC, McKinsey & Co,, and a survey of 1,000 employees:

1. Prioritize Mental Health

Workplace Support: Focus on mental health support in the workplace to alleviate work-family imbalances.

2. Offer Flexible Work Arrangements

Diverse Flexibility Options: Provide flexibility in work hours, tasks, and the possibility of remote work.

3. Maintain Open Communication

Continuous Engagement: Keep lines of communication open, especially with employees on a leave, and welcome them back when ready. This lets employees know the company is committed to creating an environment that works with and for them

4. Sustainable Work Pace

Work-Life Balance: Set a sustainable pace at work and draw clear lines between work and home life.

5. Rethink Performance Criteria

Adapt to Current Realities: Re-evaluate performance criteria that were established before the pandemic.

6. Address Biases and Stigma

Combat Workplace Discrimination: Actively work to mitigate biases and stigma that women face in the workplace.

7. Recognize the Unique Challenges

Understand the Burden: Acknowledge that women, particularly mothers, often bear a disproportionate share of housework and caregiving responsibilities.

8. Support Women in Non-Remote Roles

Special Attention: Provide additional support to women in roles that cannot be done remotely but still require balancing caregiving duties.

9. Address the gendered economic impacts of Covid-19

Inclusive Strategies: Develop strategies to prevent women from dropping out of the workforce, which can exacerbate wage and skills gaps.

10. Promotion and Inclusion

Equal Opportunities: Ensure working mothers are not overlooked for promotions and are included in projects.

11. Support During and After Pregnancy

Pregnancy Support: Offer support to working mothers, including flexible working hours, reduced tasks, and work-from-home options.

12. Go Beyond Basic Support

Extended Resources: Implement family planning programs, childcare agreements, facilities, and subsidies.

13. Leverage Digital Tools

Boost Efficiency: Utilize digital tools to enhance efficiency and productivity, aiding work-life balance.

14. Address Work-Life Balance for All Parents

Universal Support: Provide resources to all working parents to help balance work and life, recognizing the extra burden often placed on women.

15. Tackle Overtime Issues

Manage Workload: Address the need for working overtime due to difficulties in managing work-life balance.

By implementing these strategies, organizations can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for women, particularly working mothers, helping to retain them in the workforce and address the challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.


  • TWIG

    Toronto Workforce Innovation Group is a non-profit and independent research organization devoted to finding and promoting solutions to employment-related problems in the Toronto Region.

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How to: Retaining Women in the Workforce
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