In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tamara Robbins Griffith experienced what many working parents went through: The new routine of working from home plus virtual schooling was not sustainable.
Robbins Griffith says she was in the basement from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in non-stop Zoom meetings while her husband upstairs tried his best to look after the couple’s two children, then five and eight years old.
“I could sometimes hear chaos upstairs in my house … and I could hear throbbing or children crying and just wanting, ‘I can’t help you. I can not do anything right now because I need this meeting, ”she says.
And at the end of a long day at work, she remembers, “it would be like getting out … into the sunshine, like at noon, just too little to stretch your legs and see some other people in real life.”
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But just as much as Robbins Griffith found herself struggling to reconcile work and family needs when COVID-19 took child care away, she was hardly nostalgic for her pre-pandemic normal, she says.
“Before COVID, I was often in my car for three hours a day, and I often ran to pick up my kids from daycare or late and text another parent, asking them to pick up my kids in daycare and order. Uber eats from car to arrive at dinner so we did not eat late, ”says Robbins Griffith, who spent years working in the retail interior design marketing industry.
Therefore, she eventually decided to team up with a co-mother she knew from her children’s school and launch her own interior design company: Kerr + Field Interiors.
“For a while, I was looking for the perfect unicorn, like the incredible company job that would definitely fit my skill set and my experience, but also be very progressive and flexible,” she says. “And at one point, I just thought, I’m not going to wait for this unicorn. I just want to create it. ”
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Robbins Griffith is one of many Canadians who have left business and embraced entrepreneurship during the pandemic, a move often caused by the inability to find flexible employment opportunities.
It’s no wonder that working parents and caregivers, who are predominantly women, are turning to self-employment, says Allison Venditti, an HR professional and founder of Moms at Work and Ready to Return.
“Business work was not designed for double-income households,” she says. “It was designed at a time when a person was going to work (and) someone was staying at home full time.”
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In some ways, this event continues to work best for business success, Venditti adds. A 2019 survey of U.S. households showed, for example, that seven out of ten men with incomes high enough to place them at the top had a percentage of the wage-earning spouses.
Hard data on the number of Canadians leaving employee jobs to strike out on their own is hard to find. The number of new businesses opening each month rose sharply in the summer of 2020 and was still increasing in the spring of 2021, figures from Statistics Canada show. On the other hand, the number of self-employed Canadians remained 8.4 percent (-241,000) below pre-pandemic levels in September, according to the latest job data.
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It is nevertheless worrying that a number of mostly female employees are leaving the business world, says Venditti.
The concern is also about the future impact of Canada’s aging population, which is likely to force women, usually standard carers for older relatives, to make difficult career and family responsibilities choices again, Venditti warns.
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In the United Kingdom, Parliament is currently debating a new bill on flexible working, which, if adopted, will require employers to offer flexible working opportunities built into employment contracts from the outset. Companies should also advertise the flexible schemes in their employment offerings.
The bill would make flexible work from a benefit that employees have to ask for, to a standard that is accessible to all, Venditti notes.
British MP Tulip Siddiq claims such a setup would benefit parents, carers, the colored and disabled.
‘I can decide what is best for my body on a given day’
For Amy Lockwood, the decision to become an entrepreneur was about taking control of both her career and her schedule.
When the pandemic hit, Lockwood, who had worked for years in children’s media, found himself out of work and without childcare for his toddler son, who has multiple disabilities. But it was during the long months of pandemic isolation that she says she – coincidentally – discovered a love of woodworking and power tools.
It all started when she was trying to build some planters from scratch with some scrap, old nails and a drill, she says.
“I picked up power tools that were easy to understand with these large handles and large buttons. I found myself able to experience strength in a way my body had never allowed before, which was really exciting and really empowering, ”says Lockwood, who, like his son, lives with a genetic disorder that affects joints and connective tissue.
Today, Lockwood operates its own name, Lockwood, which manufactures wooden toys that represent inclusion and accessibility.
The company’s signature product is the Big Wheel Little Wheel, which the site describes as “the classic wooden chopper that was rebuilt as a sleek, modern wheelchair toy.” It comes in maple, split maple, oak, walnut, willow and elm.
Lockwood says the company, which allocates portions of its proceeds to Toronto’s Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, allowed her to achieve her long-dreamed of creating a platform focusing on disability representation for children, a project she says she was never in able to realize when working in television.
The toy wheelchair can serve as a tool “as a good starting point for starting the conversation about disability for other parents and their children,” she says. “Because I find that my son often becomes a prop in the conversation.”
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But Lockwood says being her own boss also allows her to “decide what’s best for my body on any given day,” she says.
If she is in a lot of pain and experiencing brain fog, she can focus on woodworking instead of sitting at the computer, she says.
“I designed the whole process to be one that does not aggravate my joints,” she says.
And on days when her hands are sore, she can respond to emails, work on marketing and advertising and package orders, she says.
“It’s been really great to be able to honor my body on a daily basis and not have to respond to someone else who has expectations of someone who is more physical.”
For Venditti, the HR expert, there is an obvious increase in any increase in the number of women-run businesses due to the pandemic.
“Many very successful female companies are going to hire other women,” she says.
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