Nature Awards for Inclusive Health Research
Screen-Shot-2020-09-01-at-5.25.17-PM.png (182.77 kB)

Gender, Work & Mobilizing Carer-Inclusive and Accommodating Workplaces: A Partnership Approach

Download (182.77 kB)
posted on 2024-01-15, 17:06 authored by Allison Williams


In partnership with 14 academic researchers and 24+ committed partners representing academia, government, non-government/non-profit, private business/service providers, and labour, the McMaster University team continues to scale inclusive and accommodating workplaces for carers. Gender equality is the underlying motivation for this work, both men and women sharing care work. The Gender Health and Caregiver Friendly Workplaces program has scaled the Canadian Standards Association CSA Carer-inclusive and accommodating Organizations Standard and associated tools up to an international level by conducting intervention testing and economic evaluation research within specific workplaces. Simultaneously, McMaster University continues to conduct research with 2SLGBTQ+, Indigenous and immigrant/refugee carer-employees to inform the Standard’s competency, capturing variation across axes of diversity and workplace sectors, irrespective of gender dominance.


As Principle Investigator, Allison Williams secured funding, built partner relations, managed Management and Advisory Committees, built student/investigator capacity, led innovative integrated knowledge mobilization actions, and conveyed information about the evidence of the many benefits of carer-friendly workplaces via peer-reviewed publications, lay reports, briefing papers and an on-line program for HR professionals. The McMaster University Gender Health & Caregiver Friendly Workplaces partnership is constantly growing, with new partnerships providing diverse perspectives. Many partners collaborate with researchers on one of the Stream B projects. Partners contribute to the increased uptake of the CSA and ISO Standards and accompanying tools while engaging with researchers. All partners are also members of the Management or Advisory Committee, who meet regularly throughout the year.

Who should benefit?

Carer-employees (CEs) are primarily women juggling paid employment and unpaid care work for adult dependent(s). CEs often experience burnout and a range of negative health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, fatigue, and ergonomic injuries that often force them to leave the paid labour force. Recognizing employment as a key social determinant of health, leaving the workforce not only impacts CE health but also their care dependents’. In Canada, 8.1 million Canadians, aged 15 or older, provide care to a chronically ill, disabled, or aging family member or friend.

The McMaster University partnership team improves the accessibility of support and accommodations for CEs at work. This is primarily accomplished by providing evidence and tools needed by employers, institutions, and society to enact meaningful change in the creation of carer-friendly work and learning environments. The voluntary Standard and Implementation Guide were created in 2017 to guide the support of CEs at work. This CSA Standard was the seed document for the International Standards Association (ISO) ISO 25551 - General requirements and guidelines for carer-inclusive organizations standard. Globally, between 57-81% of all carers are female. As females provide significantly more caregiving hours than males, they are more likely to change jobs or job status. As with the Canadian B701-17 CSA Standard, the International Standard ISO 25551 is currently voluntary, both containing general guidelines for carer-inclusive organizations addressing many of the UN SDGs. As a key knowledge mobilization partner, the International Alliance of Carer Organizations (IACO) identified supportive workplaces as a priority in their efforts to work ‘collaboratively and independently to raise awareness of carers, identify and disseminate best practices and enhance carer well-being.’ 

Unpaid care work, a key component of the care economy, has become one of the most important social and economic policy issues worldwide. McMaster University is working with IACO to engage the international community with research inclusive of CE needs. Given the alignment of the sex and gender-inclusive ISO standard with the UN SDGs, they are confident the ISO Carer Standard will be used globally. However, engaging countries in the Global South will require collaboration with the UN, the WHO, and the International Labor Organization.


Carer-employees are involved in governing the research program, a male and female CE participating in the Advisory Committee. Expectations for the project were defined via the Memorandum of Agreements, partners engaging in the overall program of research using both in-kind and monetary commitments. Once the grant was funded, research design and implementation were initiated with these same partners, who were all given equal, if not majority, ownership of the partnered projects. Each of these projects and results were relevant to the partnered community organizations, providing them with the knowledge needed to inform program definition and delivery. First Nations and immigrant CEs, alongside their partner organizations, have been engaged in all aspects of specific research projects from inception to mobilization. Engagement with all partners began at the grant application, where co-applicant researchers reached out to community partners with whom they had established and trusted relations – such as the Lake Erie Friendship Centre, London InterCommunity Health Centre, and Nokee Kwe-South London Employment Help Centre. Project-specific Advisory Committees were formed to advise the research design and integrated knowledge mobilization.

These Committees informed the cultural nuances for each group. Due to the pandemic, the First Nations project took place via virtual interviews. Partner engagement informed how First Nations CEs were invited to participate, with sweet grass couriered to their homes to allow for a virtual smudging ceremony to take place with researchers before the interview.

Additionally, CEs were members of the technical committees that built the Canadian and International Carer Standards. Members of the partner organizations continue to be listed on all KM outcomes, including Briefing Papers, peer-reviewed publications, academic conferences, community workshops, and webinars. Engagement with the research team in the 2022 KM campaign, partnered with Carers Canada, engaged a wide range of employer champions and enthusiastic CEs across Canada.


Many of the projects in McMaster University’s research program employ insights and information from engagement with partner organizations in the design and delivery of the research. The team challenges assumptions unpaid care work is women’s work and a personal and private matter in family life. By recognizing the role of employers in creating and implementing carer-friendly workplaces, the project asserts employers have an ethical imperative to provide accommodations and support for CEs. By implementing specific projects for vulnerable CE populations (First Nations, Immigrant, and 2SLGBTQ+), McMaster University addresses specific cultural competency gaps in knowledge. This informs ways to build more inclusive carer-friendly workplace programs and policies.

The work began by qualitatively exploring the CE experience for immigrant and refugee CEs in Stream A, and those who identify as Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, and Mandarin-speaking Chinese. The research showed workplace experiences of homophobia or transphobia were associated with poorer quality of life, poorer quality of work life, and higher levels of carer burden for 2SLGTBQ+ CEs. This work noted age, geographic location, workplace seniority, and type of work highly impacted the ability of 2SLGBTQ+ carer-employees to access carer accommodations. There was also discomfort accessing caregiving supports, given the supports were aimed at a heterosexual and cis-gendered audience. Caregiving accommodations should not be limited to workers caring for biological or legal kin, as doing so will exclude many 2SLGBTQ+ carer-employees who provide care to partners and 2SLGBTQ+ community members. Instead, workplaces should consider offering general caregiving leave available to anyone providing care to another individual, without limiting it to biological or legal kin.

The team are hopeful the proposed dissemination to the International Carer Standard in low- and middle-income countries will involve a wide range of CEs and employers, accessed through organizations representing labour, carers, or women. Working with the International Alliance on Carer Organizations, as well as via networks with UNWomen, the team hopes to engage local researchers, NGOs and other relevant organizations in the work to address gender inequality and related UN SDGs.


CIHR/SSHRC Healthy Productive Work Partnership Grant “Scaling up the Carer-Inclusive Accommodating Organizations Standard” FRN: HWP-146001 (CIHR); 890-2016-3018 (SSHRC).


Usage metrics

    Nature Awards for Inclusive Health Research




    Ref. manager