It has been well publicised that funding is a key challenge facing female founders but what are the other significant challenges that they face and what is their advice to women thinking about setting up their own businesses?
As part of International Women’s Day 2022, Bubble interviewed Sara Tateno from Happity, Jenny Costa from Rubies in the Rubble, Liana Fricker from The Inspiration Space, Lianne Katz from MAMA codes, and Kim Palmer from Clementine to find out some of the challenges they face and the advice they can offer up in terms of navigating work and family life.
Creating a more gender neutral definition of parenting is vital
First up having the support of family or a partner is all important. It’s still the case that mothers tend to take on more of the childcare and domestic responsibilities so it’s vital that partners can step up, share more of the parenting responsibilities and work towards making parenting gender neutral. Lianne Katz talked more about this issue: ‘I think making parenting a gender neutral thing is going to remove a significant barrier for female founders. We all assume that the mum will make sure that the home life runs smoothly. I have to be really open with my husband and we have to share parental work. I’m also fortunate that he took some time off between jobs.Now he understands more the work involved.’
Sara also talked at length about how her partner had shared more of the parental load and this helped shape his understanding of how much work parenting and parenting work entailed: ‘Your partner needs to be brought into your journey too. My partner took shared parental leave and he got them out of the house and so by the time I wanted to start Happity he had experienced the problem himself and that has been a huge journey. There have been times when his work has had to take a back seat and so that support is invaluable.’
Kim echoed this point but said sadly the expectations are still that mothers will carry more of the parental load. This is especially true when one of the children is sick and has to miss school: ‘When things don’t work like my son had chicken pox it puts pressure on me. We try and share the childcare but it’s mainly me that works from home so I end up looking after the kids and so I end up working later and it feels relentless.’
Childcare and having access to flexible childcare is obviously massively important in these situations too.
Find ways to ‘context switch’ when it comes to work versus family time
During the pandemic, when many were working at home, the line between family/work time became blurry. Technology also contributes to this feeling because we can access work tasks on our phones whilst looking after children and doing domestic tasks. These blurry lines contribute to a sense of parental guilt (because we’re not fully present with our kids), and also makes it feel like nothing is getting done properly. Lianne talked about this in more detail: ‘It’s hard at home to put your ‘founder hat’ on. Sometimes I just put my smart jacket on and I know I have permission to be more in my ‘work mode’. I have also tried to compartmentalise my day. I give myself an hour to get something done which is home-related then I mute my work channels and can get on with work again. Compartmentalising time is so important or you end up not doing anything properly.’
Liana also said this was important: and referred to it as ‘context switching,’ – ‘There are times when I want to just indulge myself and come up with new ideas and things I want to do with the business and there are parenting things to do at the same time. There are times when I want to put work out of my mind and indulge in my family. When you have to switch context it’s hard.’
It’s important to create tools to switch between different modes to fight the blur between work and home life. So wearing a certain item of clothing can help or switching off certain communication channels or planning time away from home i.e. working in a cafe/communal work space for example.
‘Stop thinking and start doing’
Importantly there can be a tendency (and this isn’t just female founders) for potential founders to think of their idea but then spend too long planning rather than taking action. Perhaps there’s a level of insecurity around the idea itself or it just feels like too big a step. Kim explained how important it is to not put off taking that first step: ‘Stop thinking and start doing. I see this with so many want to be founders- who think about it for years but just get started and start a podcast or a blog and just get started. Things will evolve as you learn what you are doing. I spent too much time trying to perfect something.’
Make sure that the problem you’re solving is something you’re passionate about
The reality is that female founders end up working long hours. All founders work long hours. Much of this work is done in the evening and fitted around other time commitments. This is especially true in the beginning and if there is limited funding because the idea isn’t fully fledged just yet. This means that you need to feel passionate about the problem you’re solving or you will quickly feel demoralised and lack motivation. Kim offered more detail here: ‘The thing you’re offering has to be something you’re obsessed about. The problem you are going to solve. You are going to have to work so hard, much more than a standard job – it becomes your life so it needs to be something you love.’
This doesn’t mean that you will love what you do all the time (this is unrealistic) but if you love what your idea and feel passionate about it, you’re more likely to be patient when times get challenging.
Don’t try and do everything all the time
This sounds simplistic but the truth is that you can’t do everything. You can’t be the perfect parent and launch a new business and be in the top 50 to watch for 2022 and have a clean home and have amazing friendships and a social life. There is always going to be a compromise somewhere along the line.
It’s vital that female founders have a support system in place (so going back to partners, and broader family) and acknowledge that they can’t do everything at once.
So whether this means working towards more gender neutral parenting, and ensuring domestic and parental duties are more equally shared or about getting access to flexible childcare when needed, it’s important that everything is shared. There is also a need to demystifying the whole idea of female founders and share the highs and lows. All too often we only see the glossy PR photo and so don’t realise the work and hours that have gone into creating the business. Role models are also vital in terms of showing a variety of female founders with a variety of narratives and stories. You cannot be what you cannot see.
Some women may assume that the life of a founder is perfect or that there are rarely any hitches. Sharing the challenges and outlining potential solutions as well as lobbying for initiatives that contribute to gender neutral parenting all help shift the current barriers in place.
Finally there are plenty of positives about being your own boss – these include flexibility, creativity, freedom, and the lack of red tape (you can go ahead and try new things without having to go through approval processes). Ultimately female founders need to think big.
Liana has the final word here: ‘Be aware of what frustrates you and really pool your energies in there. There is nothing like a frustrated, ambitious woman!’