by Shelley White
Like most working parents across the country, Nicole German has encountered ups and downs adjusting to the new normal of life during a pandemic. As a busy mom, she says balancing work and family can be challenging at the best of times, but the pandemic has taken it to another level.
“I would say it’s really an ebb and flow,” says Nicole, VP & Head Global, Enterprise Digital Marketing & Growth at Scotiabank and Advisory Board member of The Scotiabank Women Initiative™. “On one hand, during the lockdown, I’m not driving to sports or having to race home after work. On the other hand, there are moments where I’m consumed with work and trying to juggle online learning and the emotional needs of my children. I also have older parents, and I want to make sure that they have access to all the resources they need and are in good health and spirits.”
To keep things on an even keel, Nicole says she consciously focuses on mental and physical well-being for herself and her family. “We’re trying to get outside as much as possible, and also making sure that we’re reaching out and making those connections with family and friends via video conferencing.”
While it’s likely that anyone can relate to feeling challenged during a global pandemic, it’s become increasingly clear that women have been particularly impacted during this unprecedented time.
“We are seeing a disproportionate amount of extra load falling to women,” says Nicole. “If you have young people at home and older people you are looking after, it’s that idea of the ‘sandwich generation,’ and that’s especially compounded when women are working too.”
Nicole says she’s been “astounded” to see how women have lost ground from an employment perspective during the pandemic. She points to a recent analysis by the National Women’s Law Center that found while women outnumbered men in the U.S. workforce a year ago, they accounted for 100 per cent of job losses in the country in December 2020.
In Canada, the data has followed similar patterns. Global non-profit organization Catalyst pointed out that although unemployment for parents was near-normal by September 2020, 70 per cent more mothers — compared with 24 per cent of fathers — were working fewer than half of the hours they worked in February 2020.
“It’s definitely taking us many steps back, for sure. But on the flip side, it’s the opportunity for leaders and organizations to shine the light on statistics like this and determine how they are going to transform.”
Nicole considers the lasting impact to women COVID-19 may cause. “It’s definitely taking us many steps back, for sure,” she says. “But on the flip side, it’s the opportunity for leaders and organizations to shine the light on statistics like this and determine how they are going to transform to support women to ensure we remove these inequities and challenges for women.”
One of the ways Scotiabank is supporting business women through the pandemic is through the Digital Hub created as part of The Scotiabank Women Initiative. Launched two years ago, The Scotiabank Women Initiative is a comprehensive program helping women across Canada take their businesses to the next level through unbiased access to capital, financial services, education, advice, and mentorship.
The Digital Hub is an online platform and resource centre to help women-led businesses transform and thrive during these challenging times. Resources include everything from articles, stories, templates and training on topics like how to build a website and transact through e-commerce to how to use digital channels to promote and market your business. The Hub was developed in collaboration with some of the heaviest hitters in the tech world, including LinkedIn, Shopify, Facebook, and Google.
Nicole says the idea for the Digital Hub was sparked pre-pandemic. Gillian Riley, President and CEO, Tangerine Bank, and executive sponsor and founder of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, engaged Nicole to create a digital toolkit that would help women entrepreneurs prosper during the challenging times of the pandemic. As a member of The Scotiabank Women Initiative Advisory Board, Nicole embraced the task at hand.
“When COVID-19 hit, we thought about how we could take that online at scale for women-led businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic” she says. “How can we help women business leaders pivot to use digital as a channel to promote or fulfill their products and services? And so the idea was born.”
While going digital has, for some businesses, been the only alternative during an era of pandemic lockdowns, Nicole says this kind of digital transformation could really benefit many businesses long after the pandemic is over. “The thing about digital is that once you’re set up, it can be very efficient. It can lower your cost to sell or promote your product.”
“I think the first step for organizations, whether you’re big or small, is really doing an internal reflection.”
With International Women’s Day approaching on March 8, Nicole says this year’s theme — Choose to Challenge — resonates with her.
“To me, it’s about voicing when you see something is off or not right,” she says. “I think it’s about making the choice to step forward for something that you believe in more proactively with a louder voice.”
While Nicole says that in her career, she has been fortunate to have been supported along her path, she knows that is not always the experience of women building their careers. For example, an August 2020 analysis by Catalyst showed that men hold over 90 per cent of C-level executive roles in Canada. There is clearly more work to be done, Nicole says.
“I think the first step for organizations, whether you’re big or small, is really doing an internal reflection. Look at your data on women in the workforce. You might think that you’re doing OK, but you don’t really know until you look at the data,” she says.
“The second part is about transparency. No matter where you sit in terms of the data, share that internally among your organization and then offer transparency to the public to say, ‘This is how we’re doing.’ The next step is agreeing to move the needle. And what are the steps that you need to take to do that?”
Nicole says she hopes that in future, “we won’t need benchmarks and targets.” But in order to get there, our perceptions about what “work” is may need to change.
“We’re seeing through the pandemic that in some cases women are having to leave the workforce because they’re having to care for kids in the home, or they have lesser pay than their spouse. But maybe once we’re in the ‘next normal,’ it will be different, maybe it won’t be a ‘nine to five anymore. Maybe there needs to be more flexibility, or better access to affordable childcare.”
Nicole says she’s curious to see how things will change with her sons’ generation.
“I’m raising two incredible young men and I know they are advocates for gender equality because they are my biggest supporters, whether it’s at home or at work. I’m curious to see how it plays out for my guys, because no matter how you cut it, it’s a challenge to juggle.”