Women are talking and Canada is listening. On a daily basis, women leaders – particularly those working as chief medical officers – are playing a visible and powerful role in Canada’s response to COVID-19.

And, in countless less visible and celebrated roles, women are leading in areas like frontline healthcare, community-based responses, and the service industry. These are uncharted waters for them too. They’re making tough decisions about how to adapt, keep themselves and other people healthy, and operate with sharply cut budgets and resources.

This pandemic illustrates why we need to invest in diverse women’s leadership opportunities and empower girls to reach their potential. Women remain underrepresented in formal leadership roles in Canada, but today women leaders yet blaze new trails for women’s leadership tomorrow. Imagine what they could achieve if we supported them to the fullest, whether they are seen or unseen.

What’s Amazing Right Now

Role models and representation
While it’s definitely cool that women’s leadership during COVID-19 has inspired T-shirts and social media buzz, the more significant impact is that we’re seeing many new role models emerge, particularly in STEM fields.

Research suggests that 86% of women report that when they see more women in leadership, they are encouraged they can get there themselves. When it comes to instilling confidence and leadership skills in girls, mentorship plays a critical role, which is why many of the girls’ programs we fund include opportunities for girls to be mentored and become mentors themselves.

Defying stereotypes about leadership

Women and girls often count themselves out as leaders because they don’t see themselves fitting the stereotype: perfectly polished, top-down, all-knowing, unfeeling. But we need to broaden our perception of who and what makes a good leader. The women we’re seeing on the national stage during the pandemic are being celebrated for both their compassion and their calm under pressure. And the multifaceted examples they and other women leaders set will contribute to a more inclusive vision of leadership: one that is collaborative, champions diversity, and is about “power with”, rather than “power over.”

Decision-making with a gender lens

When women are involved in decision-making at the highest levels, they are in a position to bring a stronger gender lens to the process. Given the many gendered impacts of COVID-19 – including increased unpaid work and childcare, economic stress, risk of gender-based violence, and lack of access to services – it’s important that women leaders play key roles in the management of and recovery from the pandemic.

The Government of Canada recently announced aid of “up to $50 million to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres in order to help with their capacity to manage or prevent an outbreak in their facilities.” The Canadian Women’s Foundation is serving as a partner to help get those funds to organizations that need it. This is a good example of a pandemic response with a gender lens.

What’s Challenging Right Now

Diverse women’s hidden and under-compensated leadership

Women are a significant portion of the essential workers we’re reliant on: retail and grocery workers, cleaners, nurses, personal care workers, crisis line responders, shelter workers, and more. Women in these roles are highly diverse and are often racialized, newcomers, and/or lacking full citizenship status.

Their hidden leadership contributions don’t always make the news, but they are essential to our public health response. We need to prioritize their well-being as we weather this storm. We can’t do it without them.

The reality is that these feminized and racialized sectors are marred by low compensation and benefits and minimal additional supports. For example, just think of what affordable universal childcare would mean for women cleaners and maintenance workers and to all of us who rely on them right now.

What You Can Do

As we celebrate the efforts of women leaders who make the news, let’s remember the women leaders who rarely do. Let’s make sure we keep pushing for their fair compensation and social supports that will make a difference in their lives. Not a single individual or family in Canada can do without them right now. Their well-being, simply put, translates to everyone’s health and wellness.

If you are able, please contribute to our Tireless Together Fund launched in response to the COVID-19 crisis in Canada. Your contribution will help ensure programs for diverse women, girls, and trans and non-binary people can continue through the pandemic and into the aftermath, including programs that build leadership skills and opportunities.

If you can contribute, please donate now online.

Learn more:

Women’s “Worry Work in the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Difficult Economic Side-Effects of COVID-19 for Women
The Gendered Impacts of Coronavirus