EDITOR’S NOTE: South King Media Founder/Publisher Scott Schaefer serves on the Board of Directors for the Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce.
By Renatta Emerson
As I write this, the state of Washington has entered a second lockdown phase due to the COVID-19 pandemic—nearly 8 months to the day after the announcement of our first lockdown. So much has happened since that time: our nation has recognized the power of the vote, many have taken up the mantel for racial justice in our country, and I’ve carried to term and birthed (in 4 hours, thank you) my 3rd child.
Looking at my driver’s license recently, I joked, “The person in this photo wasn’t even a mother yet. That’s not me—this is a fake ID!” All jokes aside, it’s fair to say that I truly am a different person now. Aren’t we all? If nothing else, this pandemic has provided time for us to observe ourselves, our thoughts, and our emotions (which, personally, have been all over the board this year). All too often, I would catch myself thinking, “This is not who I want to be.”
Finally, it dawned on me that, unless I choose to be different, I will continue to feel this way. So, I shifted my thoughts to “Who do I want to be?” and was surprised to realize that I already had a detailed answer—and, in fact, had an entire Pinterest board dedicated—to the person I wanted to be. Now I find myself in the midst of a transition to become that person. This involves questioning many of the thoughts and behaviors I’d settled into: my thinking around family, my value & worth, even the clothes I wear. And while it’s by no means an easy path, it has certainly been rewarding to catch myself in a moment and think “This is the woman I want to be!”
Part of that transition and re-evaluation has led me to the decision to shift my priorities, for a season, away from my career and towards my growing family. As a result, at the end of the remaining weeks in 2020, I will be leaving my role with the Chamber in order to stay home with my 3 young children, joining the millions of women who have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic. According to an annual Women in the Workplace study published in September by McKinsey & Co. and Lean In, four times as many women as men dropped out of the labor force between August and September 2020—roughly 865,000 women compared with 216,000 men, and more than three times the number of jobs gained by women that month.
The pull is all too real for so many households facing diminished childcare options, virtual schooling, and other family-related challenges. I’ve only recently returned from maternity leave and am currently typing with one hand while I simultaneously feed my 4-month-old. I know I’m fortunate to even have the option to “stay home.” Many households rely on the contribution of a working mother’s income to maintain their livelihood. And yet, the decision is bittersweet. I’m sad to leave the relationships and engagement I’ve nurtured in our community, however, I am looking forward to being fully available for my children during their formative years. I’m also angry to be a part of yet another statistic. The Women in the Workplace study shows that one in four women are considering reducing work hours, moving to part-time roles, switching to less demanding jobs, taking leaves of absence from work, or stepping away from the workforce altogether. Another report from The Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress estimates that the risk of mothers leaving the labor force and reducing work hours in order to assume caretaking responsibilities amounts to $64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity.
This isn’t a piece to suggest what businesses or policy should do to support women in the workplace during this time—though it should at least spark a conversation if one hasn’t already been started. No, I’m writing this with that person in mind who is in transition along with me, be it their career, a relationship, or personal identity. The road ahead is uncertain. All we can do is look at what’s in front of us (for me it’s my baby girl, literally growing before my eyes); take hold of what’s inside us—a desire to be better versions of ourselves; and do what we know to do. Hopefully, in 6 months when I renew my driver’s license, the image will reflect the woman I want to be, the person I’ve chosen to be.
This article was written by Renatta Emerson, Membership & Programs Manager for Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce, “A voice for business, a leader in the community.” Seattle Southside Chamber has served the communities of Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and Tukwila since 1988. For more information about the Chamber, including a full list of member benefits and resources, please visit their website at www.SeattleSouthsideChamber.com