Opinion: ‘Mompreneur’ and ‘she-EO’ must go if we’re going to #BreakTheBias
Switchboard’s Kathleen Reid connects with fellow entrepreneurs to explore topics pertaining to International Women's Day.
At first, I was proud to be called a “mompreneur.” Since starting my own business in 2013, I’ve ticked all the boxes that define entrepreneurs. A willingness to take (calculated) risks? The ability to follow through on my ideas? A passion for creating, learning, and planning? Check, check and check.
But I only had to check one box—giving birth—to suddenly become a mompreneur. Coined in the mid-90s, the term has given rise to a dedicated section on Entrepreneur magazine's website, several books and companies, and myriad online videos, blogs and podcasts.
Becoming a mom made me realize how much working parents have to juggle: arranging and managing childcare, working late into the evenings while baby sleeps, trying to concentrate while baby cries, fielding calls while changing diapers, and so on. And as much as working from home has enabled new parents to keep working during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also given rise to new concerns ranging from visiting vulnerable grandparents to safely accessing paediatric care.
Facing these challenges made me proud to have joined the ranks of mompreneurs—that is, until it dawned on me that there is no such thing as a dadpreneur. A father who is a successful entrepreneur is known as…an entrepreneur. Indeed, studies have found that “entrepreneur” is a label people unconsciously associate with men. That’s why a woman CEO is sometimes called a “she-EO,” and a female leader is dubbed a “girl boss.” This gender bias is both annoying and damaging, with recent studies finding that lenders and technology licensing officers systematically favour male-led startups.
This issue is so prevalent, and is becoming so widely scorned, that #BreakTheBias has been declared the theme of International Women’s Day 2022 on March 8. That’s why I asked four female leaders in Canada’s tech ecosystem a series of questions that reveal some of the biases they face as working mothers and how those biases are overcome.
What does #BreakTheBias mean to you as International Women’s Day approaches?
Elysa Darling, director of public affairs, Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster: It means looking beyond the assumptions we have about the women in our lives. #BreakTheBias is a fantastic focus for this year because I think we are still so entrenched in black-and-white thinking about working women and how we view (and judge) their decisions.
Sandy Gerber, chief marketing officer, CubicFarm Systems Corp.: It highlights the necessity of making change and committing to equality. It’s a choice to #BreakTheBias. We need to support and celebrate the historical, cultural, and political achievements of women who take action against gender inequality around the world.
How has childcare been a barrier during your career?
Brianna Blaney, founder and managing partner, Envol Strategies: Maternity leave looks different when you’re a co-founder of a high-growth startup. For me, it has looked like bouncing my son in his bouncy chair with my foot during investor meetings, nursing during pitch competitions, and holding him onstage during panel discussions. Parenting and building a business is a constant juggle. At this stage, balance isn’t realistic, so it’s not what I’m striving to achieve. I’m fortunate to have a husband who parents equally and a sister who provides childcare part-time. Childcare shouldn’t be a privilege and yet it is.
Gerber: As a single mom and senior executive raising two young children, I found childcare difficult. There was little patience or empathy among some of my former employers for how challenging it was to fulfill my role as a care provider while ensuring "business as usual." I was asked at one point to make a choice between caring for my young daughter who had a raging fever or getting on a plane to give a presentation at head office. That defining moment changed the trajectory of my life and I’m grateful for it. I chose to become an entrepreneur so I could have the flexibility in my schedule to care for my children while working my own designated hours to keep fuelling my career momentum. Today, I support my team members who are care providers and ensure they have the flexibility to do both jobs well.
What’s your take on the B.C. Government’s recent expansion of $10-a-day child care?
Darling: It means that more women can return to work without being at a complete financial disadvantage. For too long, women have had to bet on their future earning potential to justify the cost of paying for childcare. Returning to work should not mean financial devastation. It should mean being able to provide for your family while pursuing your career.
Blaney: The high cost of childcare has forced so many talented people out of the workforce, especially women. More accessible childcare has the potential to facilitate a path back into the workforce. This would also have hugely positive implications for employers, particularly in today’s unprecedented talent market.
While working from home provides flexibility for working parents, do you ever miss the office? What does your current work week look like?
Sahar Kanani, senior director of program management, MacroHealth: I do miss working in the office and connecting with people in person. Since the start of the pandemic we have been working from home with the option of coming to the office while following the health and safety protocols. As we get closer to the end of this pandemic, our goal is to move towards a hybrid model to have the benefits and the flexibility of both models combined. We can now go to the office if we choose to do so (following the health and safety protocols) and I usually try to go to the office at least once or twice every two weeks.
Darling: I’m very thankful for the emergence of remote and hybrid options, but still miss interacting with my colleagues in person. I am mostly remote, but make monthly trips to the office for about four or five days at a time. I work from my home office three or four days a week and office-share with my partner at his firm. I’m fortunate to have an arrangement that allows me the flexibility of working from home and being more available to our daughter while having the chance to get away from the distractions a baby and two dogs can present. Personally, working from home has had a major positive impact on my career. It meant I could pursue an exciting professional opportunity out of province and stay on my career trajectory while expanding our family. It's clear that women don't need bums in seats to prove their worth.
What can employers do to make returning to work easier for parents?
Blaney: Data shows that parents—especially mothers—are often overlooked for job opportunities and promotions. This is such a missed opportunity because parents bring valuable skill sets and perspectives. Finding a way to meaningfully support parents with their return to work is critical. Whenever possible, supporting parents with the transition back to work begins before they even go on leave. Collaboratively develop a gradual reintegration plan beforehand, including determining check-in points to revisit the plan together when parents are close to their return date.
Darling: Ask them what they need! Every parent is different and we’re all facing unique circumstances. My employer did a few things that made me feel welcomed and valued: Believing me when I said I wanted to return at five months and helping me make a plan to ensure that would happen, offering a check-in call before I returned so I had a great lay of the land, and having honest conversations about what my workflow would look like.
What’s one thing parenting during the pandemic has taught you?
Kanani: That it's OK to lower the bar sometimes. This pandemic has been stressful for everyone and children as well. I find myself cutting my children some slack every now and then since this pandemic started.
Gerber: Empathy. Many of my team members are parents of young children or caregivers of elderly parents. While working from home during the pandemic they have had to cram themselves into makeshift workspaces. Family members often demand their focus throughout their workday and it can be stressful to fulfill both roles. We all need to remember that each of us have demands of our time in our work and personal lives and support one another to do the best we can.
What do you hope your children will take away from International Women's Day?
Blaney: That they have a responsibility to actively contribute to eliminating the systemic and social barriers that make choice a privilege. Eliminating barriers is a shared responsibility and we all have work to do.
Kanani: That so much effort throughout history has gone into paving the way for their generation to live in a more equitable and inclusive world, and that they must continue to pave the way for future generations.
Kathleen Reid is founder and chief communications officer at Switchboard Public Relations. Join her and other female industry leaders for a fun, friendly, and relaxed panel session on women in tech on March 8th.
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