Are you a Mumpreneur?

With my son, Audie, on posting to Taipei when he was around five months old

Do you identify as a mumpreneur? Why? Why not?

I posed this question on The Joyful Business Club FB Group. And the answers were strong and, well, there were quite a lot of them.

Panel at the university of Canberra

A few weeks ago, I received an email from the Canberra Innovation Network asking me if I would like to be on a panel at the University of Canberra to talk about mother’s in entreprenership. It’s going to be a great event – I’m looking forward to speaking on it. It will be held on Friday 27 November at 6pm.

I said yes, although I thought it a bit odd that I was asked; while I’m a mum to two boys, I don’t identify as a mumpreneur per se. I guess it’s largely because I had my kids in my late 30s and I am now 48.  When I think mumpreneur, I usually think 20 something mums and bubs.

A week or so later, I was at the Canberra Innovation Centre (CBRIN). I’m so glad you said yes to the invitation,” said the Chief Operating Officer.  “We honestly didn’t know who to ask.”

Women in innovation – where are they?

A key problem is that many women don’t identify as entrepreneurs, let alone mumpreneurs. It’s not that women aren’t doing amazing and innovative things – CBRIN for instance has a women in innovation series that showcases some incredible talent.  The problem is that often women are microbusinesses or solopreneurs so don’t see themselves as ‘entrepreneurs’.  Or often, they just undersell themselves and are too busy getting on with getting on to shout from the rooftops that they are an entrepreneur.

I was interviewed as part of CBRIN’s women in innovation series, and while I love innovation and design thinking, I do recall feeling like I was a bit of a fraud to be featured. I’ve since spoken to another woman who was featured in that series, who also indicated surprise at being part of it – even though what she is doing is out of the box and amazing.

Recently, I’ve decided to use a co-working space at CBRIN one day a week as a way to mix and mingle with other innovators. I’m doing my weekly The Joyful Business Club FB Live from there, and I find it’s kind of funky and fun to do it from that space.

But when I’m there and I look around, I can count the other women startups/business owners on one hand. There aren’t many.  Women innovators are also dwarfed by the number of men in lists of successful grant awardees or who have made it onto accelerator programs.  I established the Joyful Business Club largely in response to this issue: women have trouble getting their voices heard in the innovation space and are much less likely to receive funding (especially in the early startup phase).

CBRIN and others are doing work to address this, for instance in 2020 they have held monthly Virtual Coffee Meetups for women.  But the issue of missing women in innovation persists.

Mumpreneur – what’s the problem?

As I discovered when I posed the question about who self identified as a mumpreneur, the responses were almost unamimously in the “I hate the term” camp.

Why?

Well, there are many reasons, but here are a few.

  1. Not all women have children. I know, shock, horror – not all women are mothers.  Not all women are able to have children, and many women choose not to have children.  Some women have furbabies instead (again, shock, horror).  I had a long and painful journey with infertility so I get it. I know how hard it is when people ask you ‘if you’re going to have children’, or say ‘don’t worry, there’s still time’. Frankly, it’s no-one’s business – especially when you are in business.
  2. Where are the Dadpreneurs?  By using the term mumpreneur, we are on some level assuming that mums in business are a bit of a novelty – even though women have been in business (successfully) for a very long time (maybe forever?) and will continue to be. “We don’t use the term Dadpreneurs,” someone noted. Good point.  Many Dads are in business yet we don’t single out their parenting roles when describing them. Instead, were refer to them as entrepreneurs.  We don’t even ask about whether they are a parent or their juggling act.
  3. Using mumpreneurs implies the business is small or insignificant.  For a long time (perhaps even still) when we think of women in business (if at all) we tend to think of them as a craft hobby business or Avon saleswomen, i.e. a bit of a side-hustle hobby on the side that isn’t a real business like their husbands. Many women (and men) are successful solopreneurs, franchise owners or Multi-level Marketing owners – as well as startup founders, CEOs of successful companies and ably running sustainable and successful businesses. Mumpreneur does NOT equal small and insignificant.
  4. Mumpreneurs aren’t just about baby products. Some women who identify as mumpreneurs work on products specifically designed for babies, children or mums. There is obviously a need for products in this space, but the issue is that not all women entrepreneurs focus on products for babies and mothers.
  5. A woman is not defined by her children.  Many female business mums love their children and are passionate about their businesses.  But they don’t want to be defined by their role as a mother. Full stop.  Whether or not they have children is irrelevant to their success in business.

Why being a mum often is the why for women in business

I hear all of this, and to be honest, I don’t self identify as a mumpreneur necessarily.  But having contemplated this, I have to admit that part of the reason I chose to leave a full-time public service career in favour of innovation was also to give me the flexibility to be there for my kids.  And when I talk to other women who are mothers and also in business, this is a common theme.

My eldest son was born two months prematurely, and now has mild spastic diplegic cerebral palsy.  He nearly died on his first night in this world.  Thankfully, he pulled through.  I had an exhausting few months with him – firstly in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit then home and juggling specialist appointments.  He stabilised.

Then, I started getting phone calls. “Could you please come back to work earlier as there’s an important meeting and we need you on the day and in the leadup?”  This included times when there was no childcare.  My (now ex) husband took time off from work on some days to accommodate but it wasn’t always possible.  The director had copied in the branch head, and I felt under a lot of pressure.

Then when my baby was only eight months old, I had to be away from him for 11 days for what is called a Special Visits Program – basically accompanying a VIP from overseas (and in this case his family) around Australia. I wasn’t allowed contact with my baby during this time ‘for operational reasons’.  I had to wean quickly as I had been breastfeeding. It was an exhausting and difficult time, and my premmie baby was still so tiny.

Then a few weeks later, I was off on posting – earlier than originally planned. What is often exciting for many people was for us stressful and logistically difficult. I landed at a busy post, with a sick baby, and pressure to be at peak performance from the word go. Getting leave was hard; it was a year we could take leave to go on holidays and busy work plus sleep deprivation put pressure on my family.

I could go on and on and on, but basically managing operational pressures with being a mum was always difficult. And I felt I was typecast as being on the mummy track, so expected to deliver high results but never promoted.  Fast forward nine years and a part of me just had enough of the juggling role.  My eldest son has a few specialist appointments each year for his cerebral palsy – occupational therapy plus fitting his leg brace – and they were always during work hours.  And my youngest was frequently sick – partly a cry for attention but also he is gifted (I’ve had him tested) and is bored at school. It didn’t matter I was working above and beyond standard hours and had a good track record of achieving results: it was always difficult to be there for my kids.

I’m sharing all of this because I know of several mums who have had premature babies or experienced other difficulties (e.g. having neurodiverse kids) and this has made it hard for them to hold down a traditional technically 38 hours a week but always on call job with a boss in an office.  It doesn’t matter that they are all brilliant, hardworking, full of integrity and well qualified: the office model didn’t fit with what is happening with their kids.  Like for instance Amanda Whitley, founder of HerCanberra, who was unable to return to her job after giving birth to an extremely premature baby. 

Giving birth – to kids and a new venture

When I had kids, it profoundly changed my world – and not just due to sleepless nights. I began to think a lot about what I was doing with my life, whether it fit my values and the sort of legacy I would leave for my kids.  Would they be proud of me and what I was doing?  Would I be leaving the world in a better place for them? I realised it was important for me to follow my dreams so that I could model what looked like and encourage them to follow their own path.

I was speaking to someone this week about new ventures, and she likened the birth of an idea to the birth of a child. And I guess that’s it.  When we are in our creative zone as women and mothers, it often extends beyond the childrearing.

Women in business are often different from men in their approach. It’s much less about aggressive tough-talking and long hours and more about listening to our intuition and being in the flow.  We don’t work to a rigid pattern.  I’m often up early for Zoom calls, for instance, then stop to make school lunches, do the dishes, put on a load of laundry, get the kids to school, do some exercise before sitting back down at the computer.  Then there’s the dinner cycle of an evening before I’m back to the computer for Facebook Lives, meetings or course facilitation.  My day often goes from 7 am to 10 pm. I’m learning not to feel guilty about not sitting at my desk from 9 am to 5 pm, and instead, making time to put on a load of washing or a meal in the slow cooker as that also needs to be done. Sometimes I even go grocery shopping midweek as it is much easier than a weekend (it took a lot of mental work to allow this I should add).

The lovely Bec Cuzzillo said it best recently on a Facebook Live in The Joyful Business Club. She is mother to Noah, who is not quite 18 months. Her business hit six figures around his first birthday. She could never have expected that she would have combined new motherhood with a spike in her business, but she did both because she leaned in and listened to her intuition. Maybe mumpreneurs are not working long hours at a desk, but when they are working on their business they are focused and know what they have to deliver. Mums are super organised and have an almost superhuman ability to get a lot done when the baby is down for a nap.

What do you think? What are the problems or issues with the term ‘mumpreneur’?  Is it sexist?  Is it outdated?  How do you define yourself?

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