Andrea MacDonald with her daughters Rose, 5, and Grace, 9, take part online with Twitter’s “virtual camp” at their summer residence in Harcourt, Ont., Sunday, August 2, 2020. When MacDonald begins working from home each morning, keeping her two daughters busy is rarely a worry. Grace and Rose have spent the last two months being read Dr. Seuss books by Twitter Inc. founder Jack Dorsey and learning about literary terms through Harry Potter. Both are part of Camp Twitter, a virtual program for kids of the tech company’s employees. The offering is one of several dreamed up by companies to help Canadian employees juggle their professional and parenting duties, while working from home and having limited camps, daycare, school or child care options to lean on during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill

Andrea MacDonald with her daughters Rose, 5, and Grace, 9, take part online with Twitter’s “virtual camp” at their summer residence in Harcourt, Ont., Sunday, August 2, 2020. When MacDonald begins working from home each morning, keeping her two daughters busy is rarely a worry. Grace and Rose have spent the last two months being read Dr. Seuss books by Twitter Inc. founder Jack Dorsey and learning about literary terms through Harry Potter. Both are part of Camp Twitter, a virtual program for kids of the tech company’s employees. The offering is one of several dreamed up by companies to help Canadian employees juggle their professional and parenting duties, while working from home and having limited camps, daycare, school or child care options to lean on during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Thornhill

Companies get creative to help parents juggle work and kids during pandemic

Experts say child care solutions are key to keeping women in the workforce

When Andrea MacDonald begins working from home each morning, keeping her daughters busy is rarely a worry.

Grace, 9, and Rose, 5, have spent the last two months being read Dr. Seuss books by Twitter Inc. founder Jack Dorsey and learning about literary terms through the Harry Potter series.

Both are part of Camp Twitter, a virtual program the company runs for children of its employees, which Twitter Canada’s tech, telecommunications, media and entertainment lead says has been “a gift.”

The offering is one of several dreamed up by companies to help Canadian employees juggle their professional and parenting duties, while working from home and having limited camps, daycare, school or child care options to lean on during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At insurer Sun Life Financial Inc., North American staff have access to a virtual summer program for kids, are being encouraged to take their lunch so they can spend time with their family and are seeing their number of personal days doubled to 10. They can also tune into webinars with psychologists who can answer questions about parenting and family-oriented sessions where guests like NHL star Max Domi talk about overcoming challenges.

Meanwhile, Canadian workers at Microsoft are eligible for 12 weeks off under the company’s new Paid Pandemic School and child care Closure Leave program.

Other companies have subsidized child care costs and been flexible with time off for parents on kid duty.

Experts say such child care solutions are key to keeping women in the workforce because they statistically shoulder most of the responsibilities associated with raising children.

The pandemic has exaggerated that trend. Statistics Canada’s latest labour force survey showed that mothers with children under 18 were more likely than fathers to work less than half their usual hours in June.

The unemployment rate hit 12.7 per cent for women, compared with 12.1 per cent for men, and the underutilization rate — which counts those who are unemployed, those who aren’t actively seeking work and those working less than half their usual hours — was 28.3 for women and 25.5 per cent for men.

“Who is going to be the one who takes time off if the school has to shut down because there’s been an outbreak?,” asked said Jennifer Hargreaves, who runs Tellent, an organization that helps professional women find flexible work opportunities. “Who’s going to be the one to finish their days at 3:30 p.m. to pick up the children if we don’t have after-class music or swimming lessons after school anymore?

“Typically, it will be the primary caregiver, the person with a more flexible job or the person with the lower income. We know from the gender pay gap that tends to be women.”

Women may leave their jobs if companies don’t address child care, she says — and the longer mothers are away from the workforce, the harder it is for them to later return.

A July study from the Royal Bank of Canada revealed that the pandemic has pushed women’s participation in the labour force down to its lowest level in three decades.

About 1.5 million Canadian women lost their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic and RBC says women accounted for about 45 per cent of the decline in hours worked over the downturn, but will only make up 35 per cent of the recovery.

READ MORE: Feds probing ways to address COVID-19 impact on women

How fast women’s employment rebounds depends a lot on the reopening of schools and access to child care.

So far many businesses have been tolerant about kids popping up on Zoom or allowing parents to modify hours their hours to be more available to their children, or take impromptu breaks to tend to temper tantrums.

“A lot of employers will say ‘do what you need to do,’ but parents won’t take them up on it because they feel guilty or they don’t have the time to even think of it,” said MacDonald.

The beauty of Camp Twitter, she said, is that it goes beyond simply being lenient or otherwise relying on the discretion of individual managers.

Their kids stay entertained all day with live educational classes and virtual sessions filled with activities like cooking, yoga and music. And parents have access to webinars from psychologists and health experts.

At the MacDonald’s, Rose gets one-on-one sessions with a teacher helping her learn to read and Grace can mix her love of the wizarding world with lessons on storytelling concepts like setting and character development.

“Harry Potter class was really really fun,” said Grace. “We talked about the books and at the end of the class, we did quizzes on what we learned.”

Meanwhile at Slack Technologies Inc., a San Francisco-based software company that was founded in Vancouver, caregivers have been offered unlimited time off and Canadian staff can receive child care credits.

Parents and soon-to-be-parents also receive six free virtual sessions through a parenting app and are now being offered the chance to work from home permanently.

Slack is trying to remove the expectation that work necessarily happens between 9 and 5, said Robby Kwok, the company’s senior vice-president of people.

“We believe that successfully adapting to remote work is about much more than the tools and technology our employees work on — it’s really about the culture and norms they work with.”

Tellent’s Hargreaves agrees.

She works from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays and all day on Saturdays. While she’s working, her husband takes over the child care responsibilities, which she handles from 8 a.m. and onward most days.

In the past, she tried to parent and complete work simultaneously and said it’s a “recipe for disaster” unless you block separate time for each duty and have a boss that supports your family needs.

“If you can create a culture where that’s acceptable, where your employees can do that and they can feel trusted to get the work done, that’s where employees are really going to thrive.”

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

ChildcareCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Boston Pizza is one of the Wetaskiwin restaurants currently setting up a patio for in-person dining. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin to wave permit fees for temporary patio applications

City of Wetaskiwin Council unanimously carried a motion at the regular April… Continue reading

Kevin Buffalo in his traditional chicken dance regalia. (Photo submitted)
3rd Inaugural Grouse Symposium goes online

Virtual symposium will be held April 24

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. announces signage along Alberta border to discourage non-essential travel

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

sign
Alberta Biobord Corp. recently hosted a virtual open house from Stettler

The company plans to develop a fuel pellet and medium density fibre board (MDF) plant near the community

Ryan Applegarth. (RCMP photo)
Preliminary hearing date set for Applegarth

Ryan Jake Applegarth appeared briefly before the Ponoka Provincial Court over CCTV… Continue reading

The Rogers logo is photographed in Toronto on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Rogers investigating after wireless customers complain of widespread outage

According to Down Detector, problems are being reported in most major Canadian cities

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Most Read