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

Just Posted

LETTER: Writer questions spread of variant and timing of vaccinations

Will there ever be a return to normal, or will people need to invest in respirators?

A family of geese wandered through the beach area of Whonnock Lake recently. (Heather Colpitts/Black Press Media)
VIDEO: Whonnock Lake visitors marvel at cute goslings

Defecating fowl can also bring with them potential issues for Maple Ridge park

Edward Wang shared this picture of an alpaca amid a field of hay in Pitt Meadows, seeking a little shade under the summer-like skies. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Grazing in the field

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

Sandie Bannie is opposed to Pitt Meadows council move to put an RCMP detachment in a park. (Special to The News)
LETTER: Pitt Meadows resident opposed to costly RCMP detachment for small population

Letter writer urges residents to voice opposition before June 28 deadline

Dylan Ross, a Maple Ridge resident for 25 years, is like so many other local residents. He gravitates to the local trails and waterways for a little relaxation. He shared a few pictures along the local dikes near Sharpe Road during a recent kayaking adventure. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Regular relaxation retreat

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

A police pursuit involving Abbotsford Police ended in Langley Saturday night, June 20. (Black Press Media file)
Abbotsford Police pursuit ends in Langley with guns drawn

One person arrested, witnesses say an officer may have been hurt in collision with suspect vehicle

Most Read