The topic of women and entrepreneurship has been getting a lot of attention of late. Vivek Wadhwa has been leading the charge from TechCrunch. Yesterday, I read an article by Penelope Trunk on TechCrunch that argues that you cannot be an entrepreneur and bear and raise children, have a successful relationship, and have a balanced life.
I generally avoid commenting on this issue, but Vivek has often egged me on to say things, at least in private discussions. Vivek is a good friend, and I believe that he is trying to do something meaningful to help move this debate forward.
So, today, I am going to say a few things on the topic.
First, this is a very complex issue. Each woman needs to make her own choice, and it is no use saying things like “You should have children” or “You should be an entrepreneur” or “You should have children and be an entrepreneur.”
The choice is personal. Individual. It needs to meet the needs of the “person.”
I have often invited women to the Entrepreneur Journeys series and asked them to share their perspectives on the topic. Let’s revisit what some of them have said.
SM: I am personally, philosophically, against people staying home as moms because I think it leads to a huge identity crisis. It sounds like what you are doing is mitigating some of that. There is a book on the bestseller list right now called ‘In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms’. I was cringing when I saw that. [Dr. Laura Schlessinger], who wrote that book, is the top women-focused talk show host on the radio.
SS: It is really a challenge. I always try not to be a judgmental person. I can’t be in everyone’s shoes. The statement that it is best for women to stay at home is something that is just not possible for many families, particularly now. I do have friends who have chosen to stay at home with their kids. I know that they struggle with it.
SM: What do they struggle with?
SS: Giving up their adult identity, the ability to interact with other adults on an intellectual, problem-solving level. You are certainly working with your spouse on a daily basis dealing with your kids. You are certainly working with your kids on a daily basis to solve problems. However, you are missing a part of yourself that is constantly challenged. I have friends who say they have not used sentences with more than four syllables all day long. I really think it takes a toll on your brain and certainly on your identity. For me, being a professional woman is not just about being a professional woman. It is about making a greater contribution to society and being a part of the working world.
You can read Sara’s interview to get more of a sense of how she has applied her creativity to come up with a solution to the juggling mothers problem.
And Therese Tucker, CEO of BlackLine Systems, talks about how she screwed up her marriage by trying to juggle her startup and her children, but she has remarried her husband and got the balance back. It’s a moving story of a remarkable woman.
SM: I have never even thought of myself as a woman. I have thought of myself first as an entrepreneur and a professional.
JE: I thought of myself as a technologist first. When I became a leader and manager I thought of myself as a business person first and a woman second. Now when I meet young women I will go out of my way to help them, but that was never my cause. Some of that is because my mother was a very strong feminist. When I went into the workplace I probably downplayed that part because I watched my mother so actively. In her generation she had to be in order to get where she was.
Judy and her ex-husband, Bill Carrico, have founded seven companies together, including Bridge Communications, which was the essential piece in the rejuvenation of 3Com, a story you have also read here in my interview with Eric Benhamou.
All four women are successful entrepreneurs, and all of them have children. They have each figured out ways to manage the process, and each has struggled.
But they have not failed.
I saw my friend Marylene Delbourg-Delphis at a dinner party last night and spoke with her briefly on the topic. Marylene has also raised a child – Sophie, an immensely talented budding opera singer – and has had a successful career as an entrepreneur. She writes the blog Grade A Entrepreneurs, and she has a passion for the Women and Entrepreneurship issue, as well as the artist as an entrepreneur topic.
As for my own experience, I have chosen not to have children. I like the freedom and control I have over my time. My husband and I love to travel, and we share a variety of other passions including the arts, cuisine, and culture. I am balancing an entrepreneurial career, a writing career, and I still make time to dance, something that has remained important to me throughout my life.
You see, there are several key factors that we balance in this equation of life: our personal needs, a relationship, a career, and children. It is not easy to balance all of these needs, so each of us does our best to tailor a life that fits our particular priorities. For me, freedom and control over my time came out well ahead of having children. In fact, as I ordered the various items, my entrepreneurial career, my writing career, my relationship, my personal needs, my parents, friends, and extended family in India, my husband’s family and friends in Europe, our passion for travel, cooking, arts, my need to dance – all of that came out well ahead of children and the loss of freedom that entails.
I accepted, in my mid-thirties, that I will not be able to do it all, and the trade-offs I would have to make to have children are not worth my while.
Some people will tell you that you are not a complete woman if you don’t have children. I have heard this many times.
I think it is bullshit.
So, my message to women who are trying to get your arms around this issue: Do what works for you. Have the courage and the conviction to ignore the peer pressure that will definitely come your way.
Be yourself, be authentic, be who you truly are.
The rest will sort itself out.
PS: Vivek has a new post on the topic on TechCrunch: Men and Women Entrepreneurs: Not That Different. I agree. Here’s a video I did for Women 2.0 a while back, saying the same thing. Bottom line, the rules are the same whether you are a woman entrepreneur or a man. So if you really want to be successful, focus on learning the rules of the entrepreneurship game. If you are interested, try the One Million by One Million (1M/1M) program through which I have pledged to help a million entrepreneurs reach a million dollars in annual revenue by 2020.