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

People watch burning funeral pyres of their relatives who died of COVID-19 in a ground that has been converted into a crematorium in New Delhi, India, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Infections in India hit another grim daily record that day as demand for medical oxygen jumped seven-fold and the government denied reports that it was slow in distributing life-saving supplies from abroad. (AP Photo/Ishant Chauhan)
Liam’s Lowdown: Tell us more how COVID-19 is impacting B.C.

Compared to other provinces, B.C. releases less data on COVID-19 infections and vaccinations

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

The five graduating members of the Vernon-based Thompson Okanagan Lakers U18AAA girls hockey team – Jessica Engelbrecht (from left), Makenna Howe, Cheree Peters, Jayden Perpelitz, and Alexis Bishop – have all committed to collegiate hockey programs in Canada and the U.S. (Photo submitted)
Vernon-based hockey squad sends 5 to college ranks

Thompson Okanagan U18AAA Lakers players heading to Canadian and U.S. programs

Richard Green writes poetry under the nom de plume Rick the Poet Warrior. Homeless, Green sometimes spends his summers in Revelstoke but winters in Victoria, travelling to Ontario to visit his sister whenever he can. (Jocelyn Doll - Revelstoke Review)
Revelstoke nomad pens poetry, offers insight into homelessness

Rick the Poet Warrior’s books can be found online as well as at the Revelstoke library

(Pixabay photo)
NHL bracket challenge supporting Indigenous awards at Okanagan College

One or more Indigenous students experiencing financial barriers will be able to receive an award

Sisters Audrey Cunningham and Donna Erdman, join the Vernon Kalamalka Chorus singing in their cars, tuned into the radio, under the direction of Debbie Parmenter. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
VIDEO: Okanagan choir steers around COVID with ‘carbershop’ twist

Singers find a unique way to practice during pandemic restrictions

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A Falkland man will present a 600+ signature petition to the Columbia Shuswap Regional District board Thursday, May 20, opposing dog control in Electoral Area D, which includes Falkland, Silver Creek, Salmon Valley and Ranchero/Deep Creek. (File photo)
600-plus sign Falkland man’s petition against dog control

Similar bylaw rejected by 200 public hearing attendees when topic came up 9 years ago

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Notes of hope, encouragement and camaraderie were left on the message board inside the kitchen of TacoTime. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Adiós, Taco Tuesday: Kelowna residents flock to TacoTime on restaurant’s final day

‘We don’t need another Starbucks. We need tacos on Tuesday, with extra hot sauce’

Most Read