Extendicare Holyrood

The Frontline is Female: Leading a Workforce of Women Past the Pandemic

The Frontline is Female: Leading a Workforce of Women Past the Pandemic

The driving force in Leslie Sarauer’s work is to make an impact.

The Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer joined Extendicare early in 2020 with exactly this in mind. In her line of work, she makes an impact through people.

“I wanted to find an organization that really needed me,” she said. When COVID-19 arrived in Canada, that need was clear, for people across every level of seniors’ care.

She shares her purpose in common with her colleagues on the front-line of long-term care, home care and retirement homes, with women representing a full 88 percent of Extendicare’s workforce.

“All of us need to have a passion for what we do. For frontline workers, that purpose is so clear. There’s a genuine care for our residents and patients, and their outcomes,” she said. “You have to be a special kind of person and personality to work the frontline.”

The pandemic has forced massive change and a lot of personal sacrifice for the people living through it, and much of the burden has fallen on the shoulders of women. Some have stayed in hotels to keep the risk away from their families. Others have been changing in their cars and garages before walking into the house. “The lengths they’re going to protect people are huge. It’s been a redirection of their whole lives.” Through Extendicare’s Employee and Family Assistance Plan, trained support staff are available to our team members 24 hours a day, 7 days week- to offer anything from counselling, financial advice, or help with their own health.

Leslie has this in mind when she thinks about the #ChooseToChallenge theme of International Women’s Day.

“With the challenges our teams are already facing today, we’re not looking after ourselves. I challenge you to make sure you’re looking after yourself,” she said. “You’re a hero every day for your residents and patients. Don’t be afraid to be a hero for you too. You cannot help others if you are not healthy yourself.”

Many of frontline workers have been working extraordinarily long hours for a long time. With higher home and community vaccination levels, workplace pressures will lighten up.

“This will create opportunities to take some long-overdue vacation time. I encourage everyone to plan for some substantial down time as soon as they are able.”

There is a light at the end of the tunnel with the availability of vaccines. “If you haven’t already, please get your vaccinations as soon as possible. We are compensating staff for time taken to attend a vaccination clinic, and we want to make sure caregivers are taking advantage of this opportunity,” she said.

It will be important to look after each other after COVID-19, too. “Sometimes people can hold it together in a crisis, but the cracks start to show when things slow down. We all have to look out for our peers too. See if they’re ok, if they’re managing,” said Leslie.

The health world is a different environment from Leslie’s career as a human resources executive in the technology sector. She’s moved from a professional life surrounded by men to one where women represent a huge portion of the workforce — and a huge portion of residents too.

“It’s really valuable to have key women in an organization who you can share things with and bounce things off of,” she said. “We are making big strides, in terms of how comfortable women, and people in general, are feeling in their own skins in the workplace. This cuts across many intersecting areas of diversity. I am pleased when I see that people feel like they can be themselves.”