I was recently reading yet another article on mum entrepreneurs and how there is more to us than meets the eye. 'Underestimate us at your own peril' it implied, 'don't you know we are serious entrepreneurs?' Having written about some of the myths that surround mumpreneurs myself some time ago, I totally get where the author was coming from and her motivation.
But I did start to wonder why it even mattered. Why is it that I get so many Google alerts on this one topic and how come, as mums in business, we care so much about how other people perceive us? Possibly more to the point, are we being our own worst enemy by continuing to harp on about it?
For the most part, I couldn't care less about what people think of me; I already went through that angst when I was weighing up whether to walk away from a career as a lawyer. I've since learned that the only person I need to impress is the one staring back at me in the mirror. And yet, like so many, I feel all my defenses rise when I see that look on someone's face, or the tone in their voice which says 'oh, you are a mum with a business? Cute.'
But when you consider the evolution of women, work and family, suddenly the explanation becomes quite clear.
We are constantly reminded that women are leaving it till later in life to have children. I became a mother for the first time when I was 10 years older than my mum was when she first gave birth and almost 20 years older than my grandmother was when she had her first baby.
How is this relevant?
By the time that we take maternity leave, or decide to leave that world all together, we are walking away from a good 10 years, minimum, in the business or corporate world. 10 years of career success and making a mark. We contributed to business growth. Our ideas were acknowledged and our skills were valued. We headed up departments, had major projects as part of our portfolio or were sought out because of our talent.
Motherhood is a different game altogether. The early years can make you feel invisible. You exist solely to keep your little humans alive and entertained. When we do happen to have a conversation with another adult, the conversation turns to children soon enough anyway. The number of times in the past few years that I've been asked 'How are the kids?' greatly outnumbers the number of times I've been asked 'How are you?' So for many of us, our business becomes our outlet to tap into what we had before and to give us a well rounded sense of identity beyond motherhood.
Imagine the blow when you enter the room, turning up to represent your business, and the response is 'kids and business? Cute.' While motherhood does result in the loss of a few things (read: sleep, independence, bathroom privacy) we don't lose the ability to form intelligent thoughts or creative ideas.
We are on the defense as we try to understand how we now fit in the business world. Because, after all, the only thing that changed was that we stopped taking birth control.
While I may not need to impress, I still want to feel seen.
It's absolutely not a blanket rule that all mum entrepreneurs are perceived in this way and I get a ridiculous amount of support from all the right people in both personal and professional circles. But it's clearly enough of a problem for there to be so many articles and blogs written about it.
So back to my original question - do other people's perception of entrepreneurs who also happen to be mothers even matter? I think it does when you consider that for so many, our businesses were created to give us a better sense of self. But when we feel that even our business world sees as 'mum' first, we naturally get defensive.
Perhaps the best way to overcome the perception is to shift our focus. Rather than get all up in arms about what we are not, maybe we should stand up proudly for what we are. We can start by drawing attention to all the brilliantly amazing mum entrepreneurs who, through their work, are changing the way we do things on a daily basis. Emma Isaacs of Business Chicks, Carolyn Creswell of Carman's Fine Foods and Mandi Gunsberger of Babyology. Women who go about their work with courage and ambition, just like any great entrepreneur, regardless of gender, regardless of child status.
So what do you think? Do you feel there is too much stereotype around mum entrepreneurs or should we just quit talking about it and get on with business? I want to hear your thoughts and your stories. Send me an email or leave a comment below and share your views. I'd love to hear from you.
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