Businesswomen are often judged not just on the success of their business but in light of their parental status. Christie Whitehill says motherhood is a reality — not a reason to lower our expectations.
No one ever asks how billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk manages his busy schedule as chief executive of three companies with bringing up his five sons. People focus on his achievements and his vision and forget he’s a father. If he were a mother, however, you could bet that half the press about him would cover how he juggles entrepreneurship with motherhood.
Don’t get me wrong, I know many parents who are amazing entrepreneurs. It’s just that the word ‘mumpreneur‘ prevents people seeing the success of a business in its own right, always framing it in terms of motherhood. There are also certainly dads out there who have an equal juggle as a parent and entrepreneur, but the term ‘dadpreneur’ is never used and probably never will be. No one questions dads’ work in light of their parental status. Their work is judged on its merits, not whether or not fatherhood has affected it. They don’t see his achievements and insinuate that it’s ‘pretty good … for a working dad, that is’.
In all the commentary about @CommBank new CEO, why has no one asked how on earth Matt Comyn will juggle such a big job with his responsibilities as a father of three young children?
— Emma Alberici (@albericie) January 31, 2018
Somewhere along the line, however, it seems entrepreneurs who are also mothers have to address the question of how the two states intertwine, and this is where ‘mumpreneurialism’ sells a lot of us short.
The problem with ‘mumpreneur’
My biggest issue with the word ‘mumpreneur’ is that it deliberately and inextricably places a woman’s achievements in the context of motherhood rather than on its own merits. It means she’s viewed as a mum and an entrepreneur and judged on both criteria, and usually in relation to how she’s doing on both counts.
I’m not offended by the word ‘mumpreneur’ so much as what it is often taken to mean — that expectations should be lowered when considering my success as an entrepreneur because I am a mum. That to be a mum as I run a business means I’m somehow less professional or less of an entrepreneur, that my business is actually a hobby as a side gig to motherhood.
By my definition of a ‘mumpreneur’ is an entrepreneur who happens to be a mum. An even stronger case can be built for entrepreneurs who are entrepreneurs because they are mums, because they noticed a gap in the market for a product or service as they were going through motherhood and then ended up building a business from that, or because the skills that motherhood requires are hugely beneficial to business.
But if the term ‘mumpreneur’ is used in a manner that in any way assumes that my success is ‘pretty good… for a working mum’, then I don’t want to hear it. To let our work performance be judged through parenthood, that is, through any lens other than excellence, is to do a disservice to our achievements. Sometimes being a mum means that you don’t work full-time, but that should not reduce the merit of your performance.
The business reality of motherhood
Being a mum is a reality for a good number of businesswomen and it shouldn’t be assumed that it is an impediment. We should not look at motherhood as an obstacle to be overcome as an entrepreneur, nor as an excuse for lower business standards. We need to avoid fetishising mumpreneurship such that by virtue of existing we are amazing and inspirational.
Despite the difficulty of juggling entrepreneurship with motherhood, I actually believe that being a mum can make you a better entrepreneur. Motherhood quickly teaches you how to prioritise the things that are important, manage your time and do things more efficiently. It helps you look at things differently and find alternative routes when something doesn’t work out — all good traits to have as an entrepreneur.
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What we need as entrepreneurs is not for people to see our achievements despite parenthood but to create an environment in which we can healthily run a business and raise a family. To do that we need to face the reality of pairing entrepreneurialism and parenthood, which requires support and flexibility and access to the resources that can advance our skills, knowledge and experiences.
I created the Tech Ready Women program to address these issues, to empower women who want to pursue tech ideas. Through this I’ve met plenty of mums who have great business ideas they are looking to build on but are often constrained by conventional paths that don’t give them the support and flexibility to move forward while raising children. Being a mother does not change their commitment or capability, but a lot of programs aren’t designed for the reality of motherhood. If we can give access to resources to those who need it, imagine how we can transform the concept of entrepreneurialism.
If you were to look at my success, and the success of the women I meet every day who are impressive entrepreneurs, many of them mums, you would see that their ideas, execution, and business performance are competitive with that of any successful ‘dadpreneur’. Why? Because they are all entrepreneurs, simple as that.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.