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2020 began as a promising year for Marie Nash. The 33-year-old had just been promoted to Chief Operating Officer of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce in Hamilton, Ont. where she lives with her husband, Nathan, and their two daughters, ages 5 and 8.
Nash was on a mission to use her new role to help local businesses grow and thrive; there were more than 100 events expected for the year ahead along with the chamber’s continued work to advance the city’s $1 billion Light Rail Transit project. However, everything came to a halt in March when the mandated COVID-19 lockdown sent Nash and the world into unchartered territory.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge when I took on the role of COO in January,” Nash said in an interview with Yahoo Canada. “I was excited to challenge myself and grow but I felt a lot of pressure [as a woman in a senior executive role]. Then two months into my new position, the world completely changed and the pressure on me was completely different. What was going to happen to my team? Was I going to have to lay people off? How was our organization going to be impacted financially? It really weighed on me.”
Lessons from COVID-19
Over the next 12 months, Nash and her husband would spend their days balancing the demands of their busy careers with ensuring their kids were caught up on school work, entertained and most importantly, safe.
“I was a COO, a mother, a wife and a teacher and expected to perform those roles within the same hours of the day,” she said.
Nash held conference calls to implement resources for the city’s small business owners at the dining room table while her youngest daughter attended virtual kindergarten. There were around the clock phone calls and meetings with Hamilton Public Health interspersed with squashing sibling arguments and preparing lunches, taking daily walks and homework help.
Despite the struggles of the past year, Nash said one of the main takeaways from 2020 has been her ability to persevere.
“I’ve always struggled with confidence, but one thing that this year has taught me is just how resilient I am. I started a brand new job and had to navigate the new role during a global pandemic while caring for two children and their well being,” she said reflectively. “I recognize that I couldn’t have had it any better in this situation; I didn't lose any income and I have a supportive partner who also didn't lose any income - and we have our health. I think the whole process has taught me I can go through all of this and come out the other side stronger.”
The best and worst day of the pandemic
After a year in lockdown, Nash is only just now starting to feel as though she’s hitting what’s being referred to as the “pandemic wall.”
“I read something online that resonated with me. It said ‘a mother can lift a car off of a child in a crisis- and even though she can do it, it doesn’t mean she isn’t hurt in the process.’ I feel like that’s what’s at play here,” Nash said. “Your first instinct as a mother is to do whatever you can to protect your children - but there are going to be implications. We’re at a point where we’re no longer running on adrenaline now; people are experiencing burnout.”
Nash and the chamber are working on a year-long research project to examine the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women such as job loss, mental health and barriers to re-entering the workforce such as childcare or care-taking responsibilities.
Despite the upheaval to their day-to-day routine, Nash said her children have adapted surprisingly well to life during the pandemic. Protecting their mental health was a priority for Nash and her husband, but she said they’ve been young enough to accept the new restrictions with ease. Although Nash’s daughters haven’t complained about the pandemic, one of the best days of the year was when they learned they could return to school in-person.
“It was such a raw and real reaction. As soon as they heard the announcement their faces lit up,” Nash recalled. “ As a mother my only goal in this whole thing is to make sure that they are as unharmed as possible. Learning they could go back to school was like adding a layer of normalcy back to their lives.”
Grading Canada’s response
Looking back on the past year, Nash said the outpouring of support from Canadians to help one another and local businesses has been “incredible.”
“In terms of government support, although the programs available did have some gaps, many businesses and individuals were happy with the level of support and aid they received,” Nash said. “However, there is still work to be done and businesses will still require support to emerge on the other side.”
As a working mother, the impact on women in her community and across Canada remains top of mind.
“We need to find a way to support women who have been disproportionately impacted by prioritizing a national childcare strategy,” she said. “The final approval rating of the federal government's response to the pandemic will hinge on how the current vaccine procurement effort proceeds."