I see all the data around women being pushed out of the workforce this year. More than 2.2 million. The numbers are staggering, yes. But what do the numbers represent? What are the stories behind the numbers?
These numbers might capture a single mom with a school-aged child who simply couldn’t leave for work and care for her child doing school at home. Or swaths of young 20-something women who are in the service industry, which has been decimated during the pandemic. But it wouldn’t capture the women who were pushed out de facto the first time they became a mom and realized that going back to work after 6 weeks (if that) was simply not an option. The numbers don’t capture the women who would have loved going back into the workforce after rearing their young children but had no meaningful ramp to get back on. And then there are the women who stopped looking for work — perhaps she’s a mom with a special needs child who isn’t getting the services needed during this pandemic. Or a mom who had been working an unfulfilling office job and when forced to stay at home this spring, realized how precious this time is while our kids are young.
No parenting journey is the same; no mothering journey is the same. As a society we have acknowledged (and need to continue to fully accept) that traditionally binary concepts like gender and sexuality are not in fact binary. Similarly, we have to acknowledge that whether mothers “work” is not a binary concept. We all work. It’s just that the people who defined “work” back in the day were not us — not women, not mothers. As I look ahead to the next year, with a new administration at the helm, I hope that we finally look past definitions of “work” that were imposed upon us. Let’s reimagine how we would define “work” so that it encompasses all of our endeavors that benefit society.
I’m saying #bye2020 and #hello2021 with some of my most pressing thoughts for reflection and action. If any of this resonates, comment below.