If we want women in entrepreneurship, we need to empower “mompreneurs”

Back in May I came across an interesting article published in the New York Times called “The Gender Pay Gap is Largely Because of Motherhood”.

The title is pretty self-explanatory. It talks about how women don’t seem to earn much less than men until they become moms. Then, for a number of reasons, the pay gap begins to widen.

Maybe a woman takes time off to become a mom and raise her kids, and loses a few years of solid career-enhancing time (a la The Good Wife). Maybe she’s simply stretched too thin due to still-uneven distributions of labor in caring for children at home. Or maybe employers decide (whether subconsciously or not) to not give Judy that promotion because she’s been talking about having kids and we all know she’ll be less dedicated to her job then.

For a number of reasons, we see motherhood as a burden on our careers, and not an opportunity.

On April 28th, one of the most exciting things in my life happened: I gave birth to my daughter, Nora. As an entrepreneur who works from home with a global team (a situation more and more people are finding themselves in these days), the success of my company depends largely on how much I put into it — and that can only happen with rigorous self-regulation and discipline in an environment where you aren’t surrounded by coworkers.

Before I had Nora, I actually wondered if my priorities would change when I became a mom. Would I no longer be interested in running my company, and want to devote every waking hour to her? I’d seen it happen to others, who gladly took on the opportunity to stay home in exchange for avoiding the high cost of childcare. It worked for them, of course, but I didn’t know if it would work for me.

Actually, the opposite happened from what I expected. Having a daughter who would one day look up to me made me even more determined to become successful in the career I had created for myself. I want her to be proud of her mom. I want to do great things. I want to change the world. And I want my world-changing to one day inspire her to make the most of herself, too.

But despite that, despite wanting so very badly to succeed as an entrepreneur, despite feeling more committed to my calling than ever, I struggled.

I struggled because, when I returned to work, everything was the same again. I still had meeting upon meeting. I still had to make payroll. I still had to strategize a new company pivot, redevelop the website, build partnerships.

I struggled because I still had to do all of these things. But now I also had to do them while taking care of a newborn baby.

At this point it’s important to point out that for two glorious months, I had the support of my amazing husband, who benefitted from a generous paternity leave policy. He and I were able to weather the storm of new parenting together, which was an exciting if not exhausting moment in our lives. And as amazing a father as Marvin is, in the last couple of weeks he returned to work, leaving me at home with our girl.

That New York Times article spoke to me, because over the past three months I have thought of many blog posts to write before this one. Then I would finally get a moment to sit down with both hands out of use — maybe Nora was napping — and it seemed that the moment my hands touched the keyboard she would wake up crying.

I’ve had to learn to manage my time in different ways (stay tuned for some of my best “mompreneur” tips in a post coming soon), like using nursing time to answer emails through my phone’s dictation function or delegating tasks that require editing documents so that I can focus on things that don’t need two hands. Or investing in a Bluetooth earpiece so I can run meetings while changing diapers. Needless to say, it hasn’t left a lot of room for blogging.

What I realize now, being “in it”, is this: entrepreneurship can be the most challenging career path for parents. It requires marathon-level discipline and superior time management skills. It requires inhuman confidence. And often, it requires someone who is willing to take on a significant amount of risk while also not being able to afford childcare, so not only are they running a company but they are also raising a child at the same time.

I also realize that entrepreneurship has the potential of being the most open, gratifying, and flexible career path for parents.

It is the one job where we actually can run a business and raise a child. Where we can take moments in the afternoon to attend recitals or run to the library while also changing the world. Where we can be present in our children’s lives while also not taking away from our own lives.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with another startup at their headquarters at MassChallenge, a large accelerator here in Boston. The two founders were moms and invited me to bring Nora along to our meeting. I walked in there with her in a wrap carrier, which she, by the grace of God, slept in through the entire meeting.

I was supremely aware of myself as I walked down the hall with a baby strapped to my chest, dodging glances left and right. Yet it also got me thinking: what if we lived in a world where this were normal? Where quiet children accompanied us to meetings and events and integrated seamlessly into our lives? Where we didn’t have two identities, that of “professional” and that of “parent”, but one identity that could accommodate both?

Walking into MassChallenge with baby Nora in her carrier

I realized that day that closing up the pay gap is not just about helping moms find good or inexpensive childcare (though that would definitely be helpful). It’s also about adjusting our expectations as a society. It’s understanding that parenthood is an important part of many people’s lives, and for as long as the human race continues, it’s also not going anywhere anytime soon.

Yet being a professional and being a parent shouldn’t have to be a choice we have to make.

“Mompreneurship” is the greatest gift I could have — the ability to make a living creating an impact in my world while also having the flexibility to raise and be there for my child in the way that I would like to. It is, in many ways, the “dream” solution to this pay gap problem that many mothers face. Solving this problem is not about teaching moms how to stretch further and achieve more. Solving this problem is the responsibility of every single one of us members of the working world. Here are some quick tips on how we as a society help change the wave:

Join the village.

The ages-old saying is true: it really does take a village to raise a child. Don’t be afraid to offer help to a parent in need — even in simple ways like while getting through airport security or in more involved ways like inviting a solo parent over for dinner with their child so that they can save an hour preparing a meal. One of the best gifts we can give others is our time, and it’s also the one thing that parents with young children are all-too-short on.

Integrate children — or find childcare.

I have been lucky to attend a number of meetings so far with Nora in tow, thanks to the many professional women out there who were once in my position. How great a world could this be if this were the norm, rather than the exception? Informal meetings that are child-friendly. Hourly drop-off childcare at large corporations or convention centers. In some ways this sounds like a dream. But why should it?

Create more multitasking innovations.

Let’s be real for a moment. I gained hours — HOURS! — of my life when I discovered Lansionh’s hands-free breast pumping bra. The moment Nora falls asleep, I whip that bra on, get pumping, and do loads of work on my computer while I have two hands available. I have written entire proposals using just the “dictate” function on my phone, and I’m just waiting for the day when I can talk to my computer like I can my phone in order to complete documents hands-free. Let’s create more solutions that help parents who are busy with their hands still get work done anyway.

Support the dads.

While I would love additional support for mompreneurs, we forget that dads and secondary caregivers are an important part of the equation too. Any flexibility that my husband’s office gives him is flexibility they are giving me. That includes letting him work from home from time to time, offering him leave, even going so far as to allowing him to bring Nora along with him for a meeting (this part they haven’t done yet, but a girl can dream, right?).

Don’t forget that it’s not always just one mother caring for her child, but may be two mothers, two fathers, a mother and a father, or another configuration. If we can give both parents flexibility in their lives as parents and professionals, we aren’t putting the responsibility on the shoulders of one.

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I look forward to continuing this journey with each of you, and sharing my discoveries as they come along. Parenting while running a business isn’t easy, but it is gratifying. At the same time, it exposes the amount of child-friendliness our society still lacks. Not incorporating children into our lives means more of a burden for the parents who raise them, and often that means the mothers. Narrowing the pay gap isn’t just about helping moms back into the working world. It’s about making it so they never feel they need to leave.