Many people would rather I not say what I’m about to say about women and entrepreneurship.
Family and entrepreneurship don’t mix well. To mix them is not impossible, but it’s definitely not easy. Like it or not, you can’t have it all, and you can’t do it all. It often seems to me that this is the hidden, dark side of women entrepreneurship, the side that nobody wants to talk about.
One question investors often ask women is whether they have families. Almost every woman entrepreneur I know, including me, has been asked by investors how they plan to manage the care of their children. Investors seem to be most concerned when the children are young. This question is never asked of men. It is simply assumed that wives will give up their time to allow their husbands to devote themselves to business.
The reality is that it’s impossible to assume the larger share of responsibility for rearing young children and at the same time start up a company. Sometimes, the husband takes over the child-rearing duties. Sometimes, having a nanny allows the mom to pursue her entrepreneurial passion. Frequently, serial women entrepreneurs put their careers on hold for the first years of their children’s lives to become employees, and then return once the children are older.
Women with families need to consider the question of how they plan to manage a young business and a child, or children, simultaneously, because sooner or later someone is going to ask them to answer this question.
Many people get the entrepreneurial bug in their late twenties or early thirties. This is also the time most women think about starting a family. In addition to the stress of doing both at the same time, a secondary effect is that a woman’s professional network starts to disappear. When women leave college and start their careers, they build a network of other women professionals. By the mid-thirties, many of these women leave the work force as their new families take priority over their careers. Women need to build far more men into their professional networks.
I have known women who felt that when things didn’t go well with their start-up, a convenient scapegoat for investors and other senior managers was their commitment to their families. In the back of everyone else’s mind was the thought that if they didn’t have children, they would not have been distracted or would have spent more time at work. If they had paid more attention to company matters, deadlines and milestones wouldn’t have been missed.
When I was a general manager in charge of a large office building renovation, one of the bidders on the project was a woman-led architectural and construction firm. As the deadline for the bids drew near, the head of this firm called and asked me for an extension. Her reason was that she had to bake 50 pies for a school function at her daughter’s elementary school and, she said, her husband wasn’t in the least bit helpful. I could not sympathize with her. My first thought was that she should have lied to me and come up with a more professional excuse for missing the deadline. When you are dealing with another woman, don’t assume that she’ll share your viewpoint.
I remember one project manager who was furious when a woman on his staff informed him that she was pregnant. Publicly, he was quite nice to her, but behind closed doors, he was annoyed at being inconvenienced by what he automatically assumed would be her shift in focus and its effect on the project. This woman was one of his best and most productive engineers.
When another woman engineer at a different company became pregnant, the older senior technical advisors told me that it was all over for her—her dedication would be gone, her productivity would fall off, and she would no longer be able to put in extra hours when the company needed her to.
Many men in the workplace have wives and children. From their own personal lives, every day they see how difficult it is to take care of children—and starting a new venture is far more demanding and stressful than having a 9-to-5 job. When women seek out a male co-founder or investors (who are mostly men), there is a doubt in their minds about whether the woman will be able to handle the situation.
About the Author:
Cynthia Kocialski is the founder of three tech start-ups companies. In the past 15 years, she has been involved in dozens of start-ups. Cynthia writes the Start-up Entrepreneurs’ Blog (www.cynthiakocialski.com) and has written the book, “Startup From The Ground Up – Practical Insights for Entrepreneurs, How to Go from an Idea to New Business” ( http://www.startupfromthegroundup.co).