In recent years, issues of women and work in Canada and the United States have received increased attention. In 2017, the Me Too movement led to widespread awareness of and conversations about sexual violence, especially in the workplace. Then, in March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic drastically altered all aspects of society, including work. Women bore the brunt of the negative effects, including higher job losses and workloads. Some feminized sectors, such as hospitality, shut down, while others, such as health care, were overwhelmed. At the same time, many women faced increased workloads at home. Indeed, the gendered effects of the pandemic have led some researchers to warn of a “shecession,” with long-term consequences for women's lives and the economy. These events remind us that women's experiences of work are varied, complex, and constantly changing.
The new collection Working Women in Canada: An Intersectional Approach is a helpful introduction to the study of women and work. Edited by public policy researcher Leslie Nichols, the book comprises eighteen chapters written by social scientists and activists. It also contains a helpful glossary of key terms. Covering a range of issues and written in an accessible manner, Working Women in Canada will be of interest to instructors, students, activists, and policy-makers.
As the book's subtitle indicates, the chapters use an intersectional approach to examine a variety of issues related to women and work. The authors’ analyses proceed from the shared understanding that “women and men experience work differently” and that “categories and social conditions intersect . . . to improve or worsen women's working lives and their ability to care for themselves and their families” (1). Nichols's introductory chapter provides an overview of intersectionality and how social, political, and economic changes in the second half of the twentieth century affected women's paid and unpaid work in Canada. Nichols argues that “despite their advancement in some areas over the years, women have lost ground in others” (18). The rest of the chapters analyze how this dynamic has played out for specific workers and types of work in Canada in recent years. Topics range from unions, occupational health and safety, and unemployment to retail work, sex work, and firefighting. The authors’ approaches vary from broad overviews (on immigrant women's work; and disability, work, and gender, for example) to specific case studies (on minoritized postsecondary faculty and women in journalism).
Overall, Working Women in Canada introduces readers to the study of women, work, and intersectionality and provides new insights about these topics. As such, it will be of use to anyone studying and teaching about women and work in Canada. In addition to covering many of the key issues shaping women's experiences of work, it explores a number of topics that might not usually be included in a book about work. For example, chapters on Black women entrepreneurs, female politicians, and Black women in university sports examine women's experiences in these sectors and broaden our understanding of work. Most of the chapters also include a brief historical overview of their topic, something that will be of particular interest to readers of Labor. The chapters on disability and sex work, respectively, are especially helpful, introducing readers to these important yet understudied topics.
Though the collection covers a lot of ground, there are some surprising omissions. Most notably, for a collection focused on work there is little discussion of capitalism. Indeed, the term does not even appear in the glossary. Instead, neoliberalism is identified as the reason for many of the problems women experience. While neoliberalism has undoubtedly worsened conditions for working people in recent decades, it is important to connect neoliberalism to the broader history of capitalism and to explain how capitalist social relations fundamentally shape the world of work. Related to this, the collection would be strengthened by the inclusion of a concluding chapter focusing specifically on efforts to improve women's paid and unpaid work. The chapter on unions looks at one form of women's collective organizing, and other chapters mention activism and changes to law and policy that would benefit particular sectors and groups of workers, but it would be helpful to analyze these ideas and efforts alongside one another.
Nevertheless, Working Women in Canada is a welcome addition to the scholarship on women and work. By providing a detailed intersectional analysis of women's work in a variety of sectors, the collection deepens our understanding of the changes and continuities in women's work experiences in recent decades, and the barriers women encounter at work and in the labor market. The authors’ insights will undoubtedly prove useful as scholars, activists, and policy-makers consider how to improve women's social and economic standing in the coming years.