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Greetings from Maternity Leave!

Updated: May 7

Women have always contributed to the economy. It's just a matter of whether - and how much - we're getting paid for it.

I had my son, Jace Jié-Xián Conrad (he's taking my husband's last name even though I didn't), on September 27, 2023. In some professional environments, I've received the overt or subliminal message that talking about my son or my journey into motherhood isn't welcomed. It's not "professional." Women are supposed to work like we don't mother and mother like we don't work. I'm going to happily subvert that message and talk about my experience becoming a mother here on my professional blog. Here's why:

Since closing all of my projects before Jace's birth and taking a year off from consulting to focus on parenting, I've had a lot of time to think about what equitable development means. The Government Alliance on Race and Equity has a great definition, and it's quoted on my home page:

"Equitable development is achieved when quality of life outcomes - such as affordable housing, quality education, living wage employment, healthy environments, and transportation - are equitably experienced by the people currently living and working in a neighborhood, as well as for new people moving in. The benefits and burdens of growth are equitably distributed among people of all races, ethnic backgrounds, incomes, and neighborhoods."

Understandably and necessarily, a lot of equitable development efforts are centered around race. Redlining, legal and de facto segregation, and other societal factors like the over-policing of black and brown neighborhoods have created urban geographies throughout the U.S. facing the multi-layered challenges of economic desolation, environmental racism, and concentrated poverty. Now, thanks to "re-urbanization" and the growth of downtowns and city centers, many of these neighborhoods are experiencing renewed investment and development, unfortunately creating new problems like housing unaffordability, homelessness, gentrification, and displacement.

Enter equitable development: a way to reinvest and redevelop in previously disinvested neighborhoods so that the people who most need to reap the benefits of economic growth are able to. By definition, equitable development is an act of racial and economic justice.

Yet, after having Jace, I can't help but think about the element that's missing: a conversation about gender and its role in development, economic growth, and equitable development.

I am a relatively privileged white woman. I went to college, I have advanced degrees, and when I gave birth, I was able to leave the workforce in order to recover and spend time with my son. I also have a supportive partner and a good relationship with my mother who lives three blocks away. I'm lucky: my postpartum experience has been extremely challenging, but manageable, and more often than not, enjoyable.

Yet, despite all my privileges, I can't help but calculate "life math" on almost a daily basis as I prepare to start a PhD program at University of California, Irvine this fall. I think about my role in my family as Jace's primary caretaker. I think about my professional goals - to continue running Beyond Growth Strategies and consulting on projects related to equitable development. I also think about my personal goals and physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing: daily exercise is essential to all three for me. What will my life look like once I start my PhD program, which, for all intents and purposes, is a full-time job? How will I balance that with family life, my health, and my business?

Then I pause and I think about all the women who have less than I do when they have a child: Women who can't afford to leave the workforce yet can barely afford childcare. Women who don't have a supportive partner and might even have an abusive one. Women who don't have help from extended family. Women who don't have the luxury or physical ability to exercise every day. Women whose lives are infused with so much joy with the birth of a child, yet too often that joy is overshadowed by daily hardship. Where do they fit within the conversation about equitable development?

Our country seems to be having a debate over two related issues right now: women leaving the workforce since the Coronavirus Pandemic and the declining birth rate. But isn't deciding to leave the workforce to focus on family - or deciding to have less (or no) children to focus on work - a luxury? What about the women who don't have those choices? Where do those women fit into the conversation? How do we serve them?

One thing I've taken away from all these erratic debates about women and our choices - as well as my own experiences as a new mother - is that whichever way you slice it, the economy is dependent on women. It's dependent on our free labor as homemakers and mothers, and it's dependent on our paid labor as participants in the workforce. The work of women is economically fundamental, whichever path we choose. And if we don't pick one or the other and choose - or are forced by circumstance - to do both? Well, these women carry the weight of the economy on their backs.

So, moving forward, I'm going to think about how I can infuse gender equity into every conversation I have about equitable development. That means putting the experiences of BIPOC women and low-income women front and center. And it means considering how the balancing act between career and family that women are constantly navigating isn't a question of "working" vs. "not working." Women are always working and contributing to the economy - it's just a matter of whether, and how much, we're getting paid for it.

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