Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic three years ago, Dina Lobo has had her first child, changed careers and launched her own business.
But first, the Regina woman says, she hit rock bottom.
“I was in a customer-facing role in my previous job. I would always feel the overwhelming anxiety and I was seven months pregnant,” Lobo said.
After giving birth to her daughter on Mother’s Day 2020, her husband continued to work full time while Lobo completed online courses to become a trauma support specialist and women’s transformational coach.
“It’s a small community, for me, of women coming together and impacting lives and that matters to me,” Lobo said, adding Saskatchewan has provided a place to grow: “There are endless opportunities here.”
‘Women are coming back’
According to the provincial government, Saskatchewan recorded all-time highs in women’s employment, full-time employment and labour force participation in 2022.
In February 2023, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Saskatchewan was 3.8 per cent, the lowest among the provinces and well below the national average of 4.9 per cent.
“A healthy economy is only possible when it includes opportunity for everyone,” the government told CBC News.
According to Statistics Canada, job growth for women in Saskatchewan increased nearly five per cent for full-time employment from pre-pandemic 2019 to 2022.
Statistics Canada defines full-time employment as a person who usually works 30 hours or more a week at their main or only job.
In Saskatchewan, an estimated 196,000 females 15 years and older were employed full-time in 2019, which increased to 204,200 in 2022.
At the same time, part-time employment numbers for women decreased to 67,900 from 69,600, a 2.44 per cent drop.
“We know that women were exiting the workforce at much larger rates than men during COVID, specifically due to child-care restraints,” said Erica Carleton, an associate professor in business leadership at the University of Regina.
“It’s great to see women are coming back. Our worries about COVID have reduced. We’re feeling better about going back to work.”
Carleton, who is also an RBC Women in Leadership research scholar at the U of R, is currently investigating paths women can take to land and retain leadership positions.
She said it will be important to monitor how the pandemic impacts female career advancement, which also affects wage potential.
“You’re kind of starting again from scratch, potentially as a woman, that the job you left might not be the exact job you go back to,” she said.
“Only time will tell how much of an impact that kind of women’s exit from the workforce has on the overall … trajectory of their careers.”
Job quality in question
Lori Johb, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL), agreed that while more women have entered the work force, the numbers don’t necessarily reflect the quality of jobs or the wages they offer.
“A lot of women are still working part-time jobs and, perhaps, they’re working more than one job,” Johb said, noting women are still over-represented in lower-income positions.
“We need to increase the minimum wage. People need to get paid. I seriously and honestly believe we do not have a labour shortage, we have a wage shortage.”
Saskatchewan currently has the lowest minimum wage in Canada at $13.00 an hour. It will be raised to $14.00 on Oct. 1, 2023, and $15.00 on Oct. 1, 2024.
If people were getting paid decently to go to work, so many things would improve with our economies in all communities.– Lori Johb, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour
However, Johb said, those increases simply mean Manitoba women will continue to fall behind the rest of the country.
The province said the number of women in Saskatchewan with multiple jobs fell by nearly 12 per cent from February 2020 to February 2023.
The government also said women in Saskatchewan are seeing their earnings rise. In 2022, Saskatchewan’s female average hourly rate was $28.39 an hour, up from $27.58 in 2021.
“This affects women in a much harsher way, whether it’s low wages or access to paid sick time, access to things like public transportation,” she said. “If people were getting paid decently to go to work, so many things would improve with our economies in all communities.”
Opposition leader Carla Beck told CBC News in January she is also “deeply concerned” about the overall quality of jobs in Saskatchewan.
“A lot of people in the province are telling me that they’re often working two, sometimes three jobs, just to make ends meet,” she said.
“Jobs in this province should pay the bills and provide stability and the ability for people to feel engaged in their work … and should encourage, entice people to stay.”
Province optimistic about 2023 job growth
According to annual labour force statistics, the province has seen a 0.8 per cent increase in people working in 2022 (581,500) compared with pre-pandemic 2019 (576,900).
The numbers, though high, still placed Saskatchewan last among Canadian provinces and territories for job growth last year.
The Government of Saskatchewan’s growth plan includes goals of creating 100,000 more jobs and growing the population to 1.4 million people by 2030.
Johb said the SFL has asked the province for “a very long time” to create a job strategy.
She said it would involve the provincial government consulting workers across industries to create more stable, well-paying jobs, so workers “can come home and not have to worry about checking into another job or stopping at the food bank on the way home so they can feed their family,” she said.
The province noted the Ministry of Immigration and Career Training provides programs and services to help all job-seekers develop and match their skills with the needs of Saskatchewan employers.
The ministry also provides funding to organizations across the province that have initiatives specifically to support women in the workforce.
Other organizations supported by the ministry include International Women of Saskatoon, Regina Immigrant Women Centre, Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan, and the YWCAs of Prince Albert and Saskatoon.