The pandemic has highlighted existing issues of equity in our society such as the value of work, gender roles, universal basic income and racial profiling. While many in our community are waiting for the world to return to pre-pandemic life, we should be asking ourselves what is considered “normal” to each individual?

During Wednesday’s final Beyond the Headlines community lecture two-part series, moderated by CBC Radio One’s Craig Norris, University of Waterloo researchers explored whether our post-COVID society may be more responsive or more divisive to systemic issues of equity.

Inequity in the labour market

When the pandemic increased fears in March, Mikal Skuterud, a professor in the Department of Economics and labourer economist, was immediately interested in seeing the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market.

“It has been very unequal. The workers that have been impacted by this have been workers in the lower end of the labour market — workers with low wages, minimum-wage workers and hourly paid workers,” Skuterud said. The workers who were impacted the most are currently showing the smallest numbers in terms of recoveries, he added.

At the time, Statistics Canada didn’t have any data collection for the different racial and ethnic groups of individuals in the labour force survey. However, Skuterud explained that by looking at the census, we could identify the occupations that different race groups work in. Skuterud concluded that the groups that have been impacted the most in Canada were Black women.

Katy Fulfer, professor in the Department of Philosophy, highlighted the fact that women do most of the paid and unpaid care work globally. She further explained that when we look at long-term care homes in Canada, 90 per cent of paid staff are women. The problem is that most research studies don’t provide racial demographics, even though it’s important information to have when discussing inequity.

“Seeing that interconnection between public health, social justice and the need to address these structural inequities — I think is very important.”

The need for political will

These are not changes that can happen overnight, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push in that direction, Skuterud said. Pandemics are difficult but it’s times like this that lead to change — it forces us to think about our actions.

“One thing we must understand, particularly in this space we are in today, there is considerable trauma, pain and violence being thrown onto bodies like mine,” Christopher Taylor said, lecturer in the Department of History and has worked for the Ontario Public Service (OPS).

“It’s the political will that people must seek to make changes,” Taylor added. “We can start by listening to marginalized voices, to understand their position and then take action. We have the power to vote and make changes to policies and systems.”

Adding to challenges, when it comes to race and inequity, Taylor said that we must also tie in how climate crisis globally impacts racialized individuals more than anyone else. For example, migrant workers who live on islands that people pay to visit for vacations — rising sea levels could wipe out those islands, the residents and their economies.

“My hope is that we continue pushing. These small improvements are just a small victory,” Fulfer said. “But I think seeing more of these interconnections will be helpful.”

Beyond the Headlines: Responding to inequity in our post-COVID world, is the final of the two-part online series, hosted by the University of Waterloo in partnership with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

For more discussions like these, register for Waterloo’s latest Innovation Summit on Wednesday, July 22 from 9 to 10 a.m. as industry leaders explore the critical need of a resilient and adaptable workforce in the face of global disruption. Themed “Reset. Rebuild. Rebound,” join the conversation as guest speakers like Randall Lane, chief content officer and editor of Forbes Magazine, seek to attract trailblazers in industry, government and research for a no-holds barred immersion into technology, disruption and emerging trends.