I am proud to be a ‘female founder’, so why does gender labeling receive such backlash?

female founder

Jules Brooke. Source: supplied/Nancy Morrison.

About 20 years ago, there was a surge in women starting their businesses because they weren’t getting any flexibility around their family life once they had children.

It may also be that after a long period of not having many children (the birth rate had declined dramatically after the post war baby boom and the introduction of the contraceptive pill) and concentrating on careers, women hadn’t considered the effect of having children on their careers until they were experiencing it.

Once they had given birth, they suddenly understood the amount of work involved in helping to grow and shape little humans, and realised that putting in long hours in the office just wasn’t going to work any more. Plus, many found that there were products or services that they knew would be useful, but weren’t available on the market, so they created them or invented them themselves.

The Millenial Baby Blip (2004-2014) in the early 2000s meant that lots of babies were being born, and the affectionate name given to the women that decided to start their own businesses was ‘Mumpreneur’.

At first this was seen as a really empowering term, and once the media picked up on it, we had Mumpreneur articles, TV segments and radio shows proudly showcasing these women. The word Mumpreneur was everywhere.

And then there was a backlash.

“Why should I label myself as a Mum?” many said. “Why does it matter that as an entrepreneur, I have had babies? I want to be seen as an entrepreneur in my own right.”

And so the buzz around this new phenomenon of women with children becoming entrepreneurs was stifled, and eventually, Mumpreneur almost became a dirty word. Something ‘less’ than a ‘true’ entrepreneur.

Now it’s starting again with the word ‘Female Founders’.

At a time when women are rising up globally to voice their dissatisfaction with the speed and progress of equality in business, why do so many women take offence at the idea of highlighting their ‘female-ness’? There has been a recent spate of posts on LinkedIn and articles in the media where women are posting a pic of themselves with the title ‘I am a Female Founder’ and saying that they want to remove the word female as it somehow makes them seem lesser or different.

But why?

I think it’s important to loudly proclaim that we are women, as well as being entrepreneurs or founders. It builds solidarity with other women, it highlights that we are different and that it makes us more visible to younger women and girls looking for role models. And let’s face it, in the entrepreneurial world for women, there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to visibility.

In the corporate world, competition is strongly encouraged, from vying for jobs to speaking out at meetings and right through to the very few boardroom seats that are available to women. This is an inherently male characteristic, one that is very successful at creating ‘alpha’ people (both male and female) but one that challenges the ability to build supportive, inclusive teams where everyone has an opportunity to shine. I realise that this is not true everywhere, but in many large organisations it is.

Life as an entrepreneur and female founder is different to male founders. Women don’t get the same access to funding as men, so 64% of female founders use their own savings to get their business started. Other barriers for female founders are that we also tend not to get as many grants, we have to balance personal commitments, and we are less likely to ask for help.

So I think it’s important that women are visible in business — particularly for entrepreneurs — and that we work together to help every woman achieve her business goals. When we have gender equality in business then we can gladly drop the gender identifier from our titles but right now, I’m proud to proclaim I am a female founder!

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Susan, The Maven
Susan, The Maven
2 months ago

I feel I wield a double-edged sword. I’m proud to be a female founder too, however, I want to be valued on merit and treated accordingly without gender bias.

I am very early in my business journey, I haven’t yet experienced any positive or negative bias (yet) but keeping my eyes open!

Phoebe
Phoebe
2 months ago

Great article Language is so powerful. I am so proud to be a female founder….I hate that its 2021 and we are still having this discussion but we need to light the way for brilliant women and their amazing ideas that are yet to come

Dave Stokes
Dave Stokes
2 months ago

Great thoughts Jules :>) I think labelling is sometime confused with ‘pigeon-holing’ – putting people ‘in a box’. Great that you support women to instead stand ‘on top of the box’, declare the mission and get community and financial support for female led initiatives.