I was aimlessly wandering through Costco last weekend (it’s as close to a hobby as I’ll get), when I ran into an old friend. Not having seen each other in years, we exchanged the usual questions to catch up between shoving a year’s worth of taquitos into our carts. “Are you married? How many kids? What part of town do you live in?” Then she asked the one question that always makes me cringe, “Do you work outside the home?”
It’s a question that’s loaded with assumptions. For starters, it insinuates that people who choose to abandon a career to take care of their families are resided to the simplicities of their home. We know that’s not true. These parents are as much working outside the home — as drivers, coaches, educators, activity managers, and caretakers — as they are inside the home.
Second, the question presumes that because I’m a mom I have a choice. Third, it presumes that I want that choice.
When I got home I asked my husband, “Have you ever been asked if you work outside the home?”
“No,” he said, “of course not.”
I asked if he’s ever been called a dadpreneur, as he has his own law practice, and is by definition a dad. He rolled his eyes at me and proceeded to help me unload 400 pounds of rice and frozen lasagna.
For the same reason why my long lost friend asked me if I work outside the home, I’ve been labeled a “mompreneur,” more times than I can count. I’m the founder and CEO of a software company. I’m also the mother of two.
There’s a deep-rooted assumption in our society that women entrepreneurs with children will always regard themselves as mom first and foremost, and entrepreneur second. They can never exist on the same plane, and this is hurting us all.
Perception is everything
The term mompreneur conjures up images of a smart looking woman wearing a suit, holding a baby in one arm and a briefcase in the other. As I write this, in Entrepreneur’s Mompreneur section of their website, there are 14 articles on the home page. Eight of them have images of a woman entrepreneur with her kids. Seven of them have headlines about work-life balance. Two have headlines on how to involve your kids in your business.
There isn’t a single headline on just how to improve your business. Nothing on growing sales, raising capital, mastering culture, or recruiting the best talent. Apparently the only thing women entrepreneurs are supposed to care about is how to balance their godforsaken careers with having a family.
Creating a special category of content for entrepreneurs who happen to also be moms creates a perception that these women don’t run their businesses the same way other entrepreneurs do. And this is completely false. Every entrepreneur I know — mom, dad, and the kidless ones — want the same things. They want to grow. They want to keep costs down and quality up. They want to recruit and retain the best talent. And they all want to create something awesome that fits their definition of success.
The deluge of this type of content, expertly marketed to millions of women just like me, sends the message that when it comes to running our businesses, our biggest concern should be how we balance our ventures with our family obligations.
Men entrepreneurs aren’t targeted with articles about balancing work with family, and it sends a very different message.
This disparity feeds into the fact that women who work still take on more of the housework (three more hours per week) and spend twice as much time on childcare than their male partners.
The message permeates outside the family as well. Women entrepreneurs already face an uphill battle in funding their companies, with fewer than 5% of venture-backed companies run by a woman CEO. Investors prefer a venture pitch by a man to an identical pitch by a woman at a rate of 68% to 32%. The perception that women are less capable entrepreneurs than men is deeply engrained in our culture. Add “mom” to the woman entrepreneur’s CV and investors jump to the same assumption everyone else does: Is she really interested in working outside the home?
Learning is Limited
If I were to read every article on the top three pages of the search term “mompreneur,” I’d learn a lot about how to balance my life, but nothing about how to grow my business.
The average executive spends an estimated two hours per day reading. This includes email, so let’s be conservative and say that the average entrepreneur spends 30 minutes a day reading content specifically for the purpose of helping them grow and/or manage their business. If I’m spending that 30 minutes on how to cut down on childcare costs (real headline in a mompreneur blog), and my counterpart who’s a dad is spending 30 minutes reading up on how to increase sales by 20% this quarter, who’s going to get ahead faster?
The sad part is, what we read isn’t necessarily our choice.
Today’s publishing platforms have pretty much guaranteed that consumers are served up a steady stream of content, including on mobile and social platforms, which aligns with their perceived attributes. Some companies and the platforms they use are brilliant, and can derive really precise data on you just by your browsing history and online profiles. Others create personas based on shallow data and hit the send button with abandon. Woman + business owner + mother is the reason why I open my inbox everyday to find newsletters from spa resorts and kids clothing trunk shows. But if I want to find articles that can help me scale my software company, I have to do my own digging. Carrying the label “mompreneur” on social media profiles, blog posts, websites, or even just searching the term on Google can quite literally mean getting bucketed into a specific persona and targeted by an onslaught of content that’s geared more towards the mom and less towards the ‘preneur.
Not that this content is bad. Most every parent can benefit from cutting childcare costs and finding more time to spend with family. The problem is only half of the world’s parents are receiving the message on a near constant basis. The other half is being spoon fed real business advice.
The Imbalanced Dialogue on Work-Life Balance
Women have been launching and running their own businesses since the 1700s. Today, almost a third of businesses in the U.S. are owned by women, and they employ nearly 8 million people. About 70% of mothers in the U.S. work.
Haven’t we earned the right by now to just be called entrepreneurs? Why the special designation? Back to those nasty assumptions…
Visit the Wikipedia page on Mompreneurs and you’ll see that most of the links in the “See Also” section are about work life balance. There is a strongly held assumption that women entrepreneurs struggle with work life issues above all other challenges. A similar search of “Dadpreneur” on Wikipedia didn’t return the same results. Do we really believe men don’t struggle with this too?
Further, can we admit it’s possible that entrepreneurs who happen to also be moms might NOT struggle with work life balance as much as we assume? Can we change our mindset to believe that many entrepreneurs who are also moms wake up in the morning thinking about how they’re going to take on the world with their start up? That many of them enjoy spending eight to 10 hours a day focused on disrupting an industry, and don’t give a second thought to the audacity of ordering pizza three nights a week? That many, many entrepreneurs who also call themselves mom spend as much time visualizing how to get to a B round or a billion dollar valuation as they do visualizing a great life for their kids? Yes, these things can be of equal importance to women.
Motherhood doesn’t define us in our careers or predict the success of our ventures. Our vision and tenacity does. If you really want to label me, call me what I am. I’m an entrepreneur.
Aly Saxe is founder and CEO of Iris PR Software.