Women’s Shelters Canada is launching the Feminist Brain Drain Study, examining violence against women (VAW) shelter staff retention and wellness. Staff retention is a well-documented concern across the non-profit sector, a trend which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Prior Women’s Shelters Canada research identified competitive pay and benefits as a challenge to hiring and retaining shelter workers. Unstable funding for shelters has contributed to salaries and benefits that cannot keep pace with similar positions in areas like government, contributing to greater turnover. The 2019 More Than a Bed study also identified staff burnout and turnover as a significant issue for shelters, with 55% of respondents indicating that this was a major challenge.

This new study will build on what has been shared by shelters about labour issues, including organizational trauma and grief, retention, and staff wellness, burnout, and vicarious trauma. Unlike other sectors, the VAW and anti-violence shelter sector remained open throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic and even faced additional demands on their work as rates of intimate partner violence increased across the country. The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters’ most recent workforce survey reinforces the inadequacy of current funding models that contribute to high staff turnover, as well as finding issues of staff stress associated with shelter work.

While these issues have been identified, this study will fill in gaps including the extent of the issue of feminist brain drain in the VAW shelter sector, what is leading to this, and what are potential supports and solutions for organizations and the wider anti-violence sector. In Fall 2022, WSC will bring together the VAW shelter sector, labour, and other stakeholders to discuss the labour crisis facing our sector and the steps we need to take to retain workers and leaders with feminist expertise.

This research project includes three key activities:

  • National survey (Spring 2022)
  • Focus groups and interviews with shelter management and front-line staff members (Summer/Fall 2022)
  • National Symposium with relevant stakeholders (Fall 2022)

Study Advisory Committee Members

Name Organization Province
Miranda Pilipchuk Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters Alberta
Micki Materi Archway Society for Domestic Peace British Columbia
Jodi McDavid Cape Breton Transition House Association – Willow House Nova Scotia
Kimberly Fontaine Ikwe Widdjiitiwin Inc. Manitoba
Sandrine Iceta Maison Flora Tristan Quebec
Jyoti Singh Nellie’s Ontario
Lauren Hancock Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses Ontario
Carol Metz Murray Tri-City Transitions Society British Columbia
Becky Wells Wellspring Family Resource & Crisis Centre Alberta


November 9-10, 2022

If you have any questions or would like to know more about this study, contact Robyn Hoogendam, Research Coordinator, at rhoogendam@endvaw.ca.