A few months ago, I wrote a post about whether female entrepreneurs should hide the fact that they are mothers, and was lucky to get a comment from Julie Lenzer Kirk, author of “The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business.” She said the following:
Thank you for this post! I had a problem finding successful entrepreneurs who are also parents because, as you say, so many people hide that fact. I agree that they should NOT hide it, and recently published a book for moms and dads that shows WHY you should not hide that fact.
I do like the steps youâ€™ve provided because at the end of the day, parenting should not be an excuse for shoddy workmanship but if you do it right, it can give you an EDGE in business!
I thought this was a really interesting point of view, since while I have always believed that we can succeed in business despite being parents, Julie was basically saying that we can succeed because we are parents!
I contacted Julie, and she agreed to an email “interview.” So here it is, and I think you will find what she says to be an interesting perspective on life and work:
Miriam: I’ve always seen parenthood as something that can be compatible with a career, but not as an asset! How is parenting an asset for business owners?
Julie: The life cycle of being a parent and starting a business are strangely the same. Deciding to get pregnant and start a family is not unlike the decision to start a business. Sometimes it is an accident, sometimes it takes a couple of tries, and other times it works great the first time!
Being a parent gives us skills we can use in working with and managing other people. For example, who better to understand the delicate balance of delegation than parents who have left a babysitter in charge of their children for the first time, or the parent of a pre-teen during their first solo cooking attempt? Likewise, understanding that your teenage daughter oftentimes just wants to know she is being heard mimics many an employeesâ€™ need for airing ideas and grievances.
Additionally, as a parent we appreciate the need to guide the behavior of others (our children) to accomplish goals (grow up healthy and productive in a safe environment), much like the role of growing a business by leveraging the skills and talents of other people to achieve our business goals. And in both cases, we try to do all of that without spanking!
Miriam: Can you describe a few specific skills that parents have that are helpful and business, and explain how they are helpful?
Julie: Resourcefulness: I donâ€™t know a parent that hasnâ€™t, at one time or another, had to learn something about being a parent on-the-fly. We go into it knowing that there is no way we can know everything. We have to be resourceful in reading up on parenting or asking for help from family and neighbors. We canâ€™t wait for someone to sit us down and tell us how to be a parent â€“ we just have to do it. In business, resourceful employees are valued and often a necessary part of a growing company. When our businesses are in their infancy, we need people who can do whatever it takes to get the job done. We donâ€™t have time to oversee and micro-manage them â€“ we need that resourcefulness!
Vision: When our kids are born we canâ€™t help but start to envision their future. We save for college, explore child care options, and make sure we have access to quality schools. For a company, having a vision of a positive future is good, especially when coupled with positive actions that help the company get there. How big do we want to grow? What new markets do we want to enter? How can we best serve our customers?
Creative Persuasion: Anyone who can teach a toddler to pick up or share his toys has mastered the art of persuasion. Those actions just donâ€™t come naturally. Business is all about getting people to work together towards a common goal. Sometimes that requires just a little nudge (or creative persuasion!) from management.
Miriam: How has parenthood helped you in your business career?
Julie: Being a parent has honed my management skills (as described above) and also given me perspective. All too often we get wrapped up in an issue at work and sometimes, such as when we have a deadline, we need to have perspective. For me, however, raising my kids while I grew my business gave me perspective that allowed me to stop sweating the small stuff. I could step back and look at an issue in my business and more objectively determine whether it was really such a big deal – would I even remember this problem in a year?
Miriam: What advice can you give to parents as to how they can maximize their parenting skills in business?
Julie: First, recognize the similarities. Once you see the parallels, youâ€™ll feel freer to use skills from one aspect of your life in another, though I would stop before you get to feeding a colleague and saying â€œOpen your mouth, here comes the choo-choo!â€ Really look at the challenges you face with your children and how you solve them and donâ€™t be afraid to apply an adult-version of that to how you relate to folks at work. After all, underneath it all weâ€™re all just a bunch of kids in grown-up clothes! We still need attention, love, care, and feeding.
Miriam: Would you say that mothers develop different business-related parenting skills than fathers? If so, are they at an advantage or disadvantage?
Julie: That depends on the household. In my house, my husband and I are equal partners in raising our children. We share household and parenting duties. In general, the primary care giver will develop a better sense of the parallels.
Miriam: The time element: both parenting and entrepreneurship demand a huge amount of time. Do you have any advice for managing time so that we can give sufficient attention to both aspects of our lives?
Julie: First, if youâ€™re an entrepreneur, you should be doing something youâ€™re passionate about. Both starting a business and raising children are the toughest jobs youâ€™ll ever love, and if you donâ€™t love what youâ€™re doing it is next to impossible to be successful at it. When you love what you do, it stops feeling like work. OK â€“ sometimes there is that drudgery that has to come with it, but MOST OF THE TIME it is fun.
Also, most people miss the fact that balance should be evaluated over time. Trying to live each and every day in balance could lead to insanity. It is important, at some point, to devote 100% of your attention to the task at hand â€“ whether it be your children or your work. You can not live your life totally multitasking every minute or youâ€™ll never feel like you accomplish anything. Some days are all about kids, such as when they are sick, and other days work must take priority because of deadlines and due dates. You have to look at your balance over a period of time and make adjustments when things get too out of whack.
Miriam: Thanks Julie for taking the time to participate in this interview!
So it seems that there is quite a bit of overlap between the skills we use as parents and as entrepreneurs. It’s an interesting idea, and definitely worth thinking about.
Julie Lenzer Kirk (Washington, DC) is a successful entrepreneur and passionate about empowering others into entrepreneurship. She is a business owner, mentor, author, international speaker, community volunteer, and parent. It has been her ability to balance all of these roles and transfer that capability into a profitable work place that has won her and her company – Applied Creative Technologies, Inc. – national acclaim.
Learn more about Julie Lenzer Kirk on her site (she also has a blog), and check out her book, “The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business.“
There is still the perception that business is a man’s world. I would maybe say that it’s a “man-style world,” i.e. women are welcome as long as they act like men. From conversations with other women who run their own businesses, I see that many feel very self-conscious about being women in what they see as “a man’s world.” Some make efforts to suppress or hide signs of femininity, and try to blend in with the men around them.
As a result, many women will also never discuss the fact they are mothers, and will even go to lengths to hide that fact. This is understandable, since people often hesitate to work with mothers since they see them as unreliable. They worry about sick days, the inability to work long hours because they have to be home for their kids, etc.
But is it really necessary to hide the fact that you are a mother? Will it negatively impact on your ability to grow your business and win clients?
I don’t think women should hide their motherhood, and I even think that hiding it could be detrimental. But I do think that there are certain steps that need to be taken in order to succeed as a working mother:
- You don’t have to volunteer the information: When meeting with potential clients, you don’t have to tell them right off the bat that you are a mother. It’s not relevant, and has nothing to do with what you are discussing, just like they aren’t telling you about their personal life. But don’t hide it. Often, once business is aside, friendly chit-chat ensues and you’ll start discussing more personal issues with the client, i.e. how long have you been doing this? where do you live? do you have kids? etc. Be confident and proud of the fact that you have kids. It shows you have a life outside of work, and believe me, you’re not the only one.
- Always remain professional: It’s nice that you have kids, and the client may even think so too. But at the end of the day, the work has to get done. No one cares if your kid is sick or has a class party. If you want to be a working mother, you need to figure out ways to make sure that you have your bases covered for any eventualities. Of course, there are some parental situations that simply can’t be overcome, but your clients will generally understand in those cases – they’re human beings too! So if you want to go to that class party (and you should!) make sure to work overtime the day before so that you can free up that time.
- Be confident in your abilities: If you are confident in your abilities, this will come across to the client and they in turn will feel confidence in their choice to hire you. If you feel self-conscious about the fact that you’re a mother, and you’re trying to hide it, this will come across.
I know a businesswoman who for years has been hiding the fact that she is a mother. She wouldn’t discuss it with clients or any business colleagues, even though she is proud of her kids. About two weeks ago she joined Facebook and opened a profile. At first she wouldn’t mention her kids or family, but after a few days she uploaded pictures of her kids to her profile. Not only did this not adversely affect her, but someone she knew found her on Facebook and contacted her about business – despite that fact that she obviously had kids!
It is apparent that many women find the work environment to be a hostile place. Stories abound about women being asked all manners of inappropriate questions in interviews, such as if they have children, do they plan on having children, what does their husband think of their career, etc. Employers want assurance that work will come above all else, and an employee must commit to that work ethic or else.
For mothers of small children, this approach is particularly problematic. As we know, children are unpredictable. They can get sick, they can have vacations, and they may just want and need attention. All of this demands time and understanding, something rare in the workplace.
Many newspapers have reported about the high-power career women who have left their jobs to pursue a career in caring for their children. But do they do this out of will, or because they feel that they are forced out?
Of course, it is not only women that seek a better balance between family and work. Many men also would like to have more time to spend with their families and children.
The ROWE approach – Results Only Work Environment
Self-employment is one option for those seeking greater flexibility in their jobs. But self-employment is not for everyone, and many prefer the security of a monthly paycheck.
The answer (possibly): ROWE – Results Only Work Environment. This is an experiment that has been implemented by Best Buy, whereby bosses have no say in scheduling and can only judge employees by tasks successfully completed. So workers can work when and were they want, as long as they fulfill their responsibilities. This “experiment” has been in place for five years, and Best Buy reports that employee productivity has increased an average of 35% in departments covered by the program.
This plan not only increases productivity, but also saves them money:
“The per-employee cost of turnover is $102,000, and ROWE teams have 3.2 percent less voluntary turnover than non-ROWE teams. So once Best Buy’s 4,000-person headquarters is completely converted to ROWE, the company stands to save about $13 million a year in replacement costs.”
I can personally attest to the ridiculousness of time-based employment. In one of my first jobs, I was employed as an editor for 20 hours a week, and up to 40 depending on the workload. I was completing the editing work in 5 hours. To fill up the remaining 15, I offered to take on other tasks. I ended up reorganizing their library and became their “librarian”, helped the bookkeeper with her backlog, and I even started working for another department doing research and improved their client-communication material. Not to mention that I worked with them on writing their brochure, and managed the project for improving their CRM system. But when the end of the year came, they saw that I was missing many hours because often I would come in a half hour late or leave a bit earlier because of my kids – this adds up over a year. They didn’t care that I was doing three times the amount of work, and made me pay for my missing hours. Some of you may think this is totally fair on their part, but I felt very unappreciated (and soon left to more appreciative pastures).
The conventional time-based work environment penalizes those who are efficient. It may even encourage people to waste time – why should they fulfill a task in one hour if it means they will only get recognition for one hour of work? Better to drag it across three hours, and make the boss happy.
Will companies begin to adopt ROWE? I don’t think so, at least not in the foreseeable future. It’s hard to get executives to wrap their heads around this new way of thinking. But at least there’s hope on the horizon!
After I gave birth recently, I found myself in an entirely new situation with regards to motherhood and work. For the first time, I gave birth not as an employee, but as a business owner. This meant that I could not expect a maternity leave like the one I had known after my previous child was born, where I switched off almost all connections from anything work-related. I did not know what I was in for, and I have to admit that the new reality of business-owner/new mother caught me off guard.
Before I gave birth, I made an effort to find information that would help me manage business and baby at the same time. Most of the information that showed up in searches was related to the technicalities of maternity leave and receiving compensation. There was almost nothing about women business-owners and how they should handle their maternity leave period.
After Tifferet was born, I became aware of the difficulty of my situation and began blogging about it for two reasons: 1. Writing is a therapeutic activity, and it helped me get my head around my current situation; and 2. I was hoping that other women could benefit from reading about birth and business.
Surprisingly, a man expressed the most interest in what I was writing. Bill Dueease is a business coach who was inspired by my writing to create a page on his coaching site dedicated to women and the dilemmas they face with regards to work. He recently completed the page, and posted the link in a comment. It looks like he’s managed to identify almost all of the possible situations, at all stages of life that women face with regards to work and family. Does he have the answers as to how to manage these situations? Right now only his clients will know. In the meantime, my “maternity leave” ends in two weeks, and I still don’t know the answers, although I think I’m starting to get an idea. Stay tunedâ€¦
A recent conversation on the Digital Eve Israel mailing list brought up the topic of pregnancy and the workplace. While the law in Israel states that employers cannot fire pregnant women, this is apparently not enforced and many stories were related by women on the list who were fired when pregnant or upon return from maternity leave. Many didn’t sue their former employers because they didn’t have the energy, resources, or hope that it would help the situation.
Suing, however, can be effective. An article from Haaretz was cited that reported on a case in September where the court ruled that a company must pay NIS 300,000 to a woman fired illegally during pregnancy. But the woman who sent out this article pointed out that if the courts become too effective, this may end up backfiring on women and companies would think twice before placing women in certain positions.
Weak law enforcement
The fact that the law prohibiting employers from firing pregnant women or those on maternity leave is not enforced, is problematic, but is not unique to this law. How many of us have seen people smoking under the non-smoking signs in public areas? But I think that this issue is representative of a larger problem that exists in Israel, and may exist elsewhere, and that is the question of women’s status in the workplace.
Supposedly, the State of Israel wants to encourage women to work outside of the home. Someone from MATI explained to me once that this is the reason that only women get tax points for children, and men do not. This is also the reason for the above-mentioned laws related to pregnancy and maternity leave â€“ to prevent discrimination against women in the workplace.
Women-friendly work environment?
However, the reality is that these laws don’t help women as often as they could, and the general structure of Israeli society does not create a women-friendly work environment. For example, tax credits only benefit someone who has an income that reaches levels where it is taxed. In Israel, like in most countries, women earn less than men, and a third of working women are part-time employees, while only 7% of men work part-time. Another person from MATI explained to me, half-sarcastically, that the real reason women get the tax credits and men do not is because very few women would have to pay taxes anyways, so the government doesn’t lose any income.
And of course, it is clear that the law forbidding employers from firing pregnant women or women on maternity leave is not taken seriously. It seems that women are dependent on the kindness of their employer in order to keep their jobs.
The day care and school system in Israel makes it almost impossible for a woman to hold a job. Let’s just start with the two month break in the summer; the summer camps offered cost a fortune, especially for families with many children. And then, if you manage to survive the summer, a few weeks later there is Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot vacations. Then Chanuka. Purim. The month-long Pessach break. And then summer again. Now I’m all for celebrating the Jewish holidays, but why are there always vacation days added on to the beginning and end of every one of them? And do the kids need to have off all 8 days of Chanuka? Last time I checked, Purim was only one day, and yet the schools close for three days. And while cleaning for Pessach may be difficult, do the schools really need to close for a month?
Why women should work
It seems that society has not yet really decided whether women should or should not be encouraged to join the workforce. This issue is not unique to Israel; see this letter from a man in Portland, Oregon, who thinks women should stay home and do THEIR jobs (i.e. laundry and cooking), and that the entry of women to the workforce has been the downfall of the American family and job opportunities for men.
To sum up, here are some points in favor of women working taken from the response to the above mentioned letter:
- “A Catalyst survey of Fortune 500 companies found that companies with the highest representation of women in their top management teams experienced better financial performance than companies with the lowest womenâ€™s representation.”
- “In April 2006, The Economist said that “women â€¦ are the worldâ€™s most under-utilized resource; getting more of them into work is part of the solution to many economic woes.”
And finally, Guy Kawasaki in his manifesto “The Art of the Start,” says that women are essential to making your business work. When building your business model, he says you should ask women for their advice. The following is a bit of a long quote, but he explains his logic so hilariously that I can’t just tell you what he has to say â€“ you have to read it for yourself:
“My theory is that deep in the DNA of men is a “killer” gene. This gene expresses itself by making men want to kill people, animals, and plants. To a large degree society has repressed this gene; however starting an organization whose purpose is to kill another organization is still socially acceptable.
“Hence, asking a man about a business model is useless because every business model looks good to someone with the Y chromosomeâ€¦
“Women, by contrast, don’t have this killer gene. Thus, they are much better judges of the viability of a business model than men are. Don’t agree with me? The book The Darwin Awards provides irrefutable proof of women’s greater common sense. These awards commemorate “those individuals who have removed themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion.”
“For example, in 1998 two construction workers fell to their demise after cutting a circular hole in the floor while they were standing in the middle of the circle. The Darwin Awards contain nine chapters about the stupidity of men, and one chapter about the stupidity of women. I rest my case.”
He goes on to provide an exercise on figuring out if your business model is viable. It ends with “Ask a few women if they think you have a chance of selling that many units. If they don’t, you don’t have a business model.”
In Part 1 of my series on Self Employment and Maternity Leave, I discussed the technical aspects of getting compensation from social security for maternity leave. In Part 2, I discussed whether it is realistic for a business owner to disappear for three months and hope that the business will still be there when she gets back from her maternity leave. My conclusion is that it is not.
Having said that, I promised that I would explain how it is possible to get any work done while on maternity leave. There are two main “environmental” supports that I found play a significant role in my ability to get work done with baby in tow:
- Home office: make sure that you have a complete a home office, since you will need to work whenever you find time available. Also, getting to an outside office is pretty difficult during maternity leave. Computer, Internet, phone, email, fax, and software should all be available to you in your home.
- Baby sling: babies like to be held. A lot. If you are holding them with your hands, you can’t get much else done. But we women are all about multi-tasking, and that’s where the sling comes into play. Place baby in sling and voila! – two hands available for typing, juggling, knitting, and even archery.
Severe time constraints
Aside from the above support systems, it is important to realize that the time available to you for work with a baby at home is severely limited. In order to handle the diminished amount of time, there are two things you can do:
- Improve your efficiency, and adopt a better system for completing tasks. Many people are avid followers of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” time management system. Not only is there a book on the subject, there are blogs, wikis, and free online software dedicated to helping people become more productive. I personally am still trying to figure out what this whole movement is about, but it seems worth checking into.
- Make a conscious effort to shrink your workload. Understand that the current reality of a new baby means that you can’t work 24 hours a day, even if you wanted to. Baby cries, needs to eat, wants to be held, etc., and this can eat up significant parts of your day. Some ways to lower your workload is to avoid actively seeking out new work, to stop any marketing programs you may be running, and take a lower profile.
Don’t feed the computer
Here’s an amusing anecdote (at least I think it’s amusing). A colleague called to see how I was progressing on a project. I told him I was working on it, and that it wasn’t easy since I had the baby on one side, and the computer on the other.
He said “Just make sure you don’t start typing on the baby and feeding the computer.”
P.S. It is very hard to find information on how to plan your business for the arrival of a new baby. Well, there’s actually someone out there who helps businesswomen prepare their businesses for their maternity leave. See the comment on this blog by Bill Dueease, who describes some things that women can do in advance to reduce the conflict of choices that faces mothers, including putting together what he calls a “baby plan.” Take a look at his informative comment, and then visit his site!
In Part 1 of this series, I wrote about self-employed women and the issues facing them when trying to get proper compensation from Bituach Leumi/Social Insurance. However, a self-employed mommy faces another significant dilemma after giving birth: how can you just stop your business for three months?
Can you afford to lose clients?
Running a business involves more than just getting the work done â€“ it means being there for your clients. Loyal clients are very valuable, and part of what makes them happy is that they know that you are there for them all the time. This is particularly true if your clients are other businesses. In Israel, as I’ve written before, business is very fast-paced and chances are that most clients won’t be able to wait three months for you to get things done. They need your services now; they want results yesterday! Losing these clients is very costly, so you really want to make sure you retain them.
And how about new clients? Every new client presents not only the opportunity for income, but also the opportunity to grow your business, which is probably the number one goal for most business owners. If they are happy, they will hopefully come back to you again, and even recommend you to others. But if you turn them away, you have lost an opportunity to create a new net of potential customers.
It’s possible that the situation is different for large, established businesses. If you own a business with tens or hundreds of employees, and you’ve been around for many years and the business can kind of run itself, then you may be able to fade out for a few months. But if you are a small business that is relatively new, and you don’t have the resources (time and money) to hire a team to take over while you’re gone, I don’t know if you can just turn out the lights and hope for the best. Owners of small businesses are often the business â€“ clients work with the company because of the owner. In addition, the owner also takes part in more than just management and actually provides the service as well.
My maternity leave strategy, which failed â€“ or succeeded, depending on how you look at it
My personal take on maternity leave as a business owner was that I would not make any efforts to bring in new business. That way existing clients would be happy, and I could maybe rest a bit, read some books (I did manage to read The Tipping Point), and/or learn something new (during my last maternity leave I learned how to build websites and started planning my new business â€“ all from the comfort of my computer chair!). Well, that didn’t work out quite as planned; business actually started pouring in from the day I gave birth! I don’t quite understand that one, but there is an old Yiddish/Hebrew saying: “A child brings their bread with them,” i.e. you don’t have to worry about how you will support your children because they bring the income with them. It’s one of those metaphysical things.
Ok, but babies = no time for anything else!
The final question that many of you may be asking yourselves, especially other mothers who’ve been there, is “How can you get any work done with a baby around?” The answer to that, dear readers, will be in Part 3â€¦