The Harvard Study That Started It All

A Harvard study shows that women are earning less & having less success because they defer to their husband’s career goals.

I have had the absolute pleasure of meeting thousands of moms who have started their entrepreneurial ventures. Many of them start their business after they have their babies, in order to stay home and not return to their corporate or out-of-the-home workplace. They may have seen a hole in their care (that was my reason) or wished they had a certain product or service and decided to fill it. Many of my clients have a skill, like they work for a magazine as an editor, and now they have gone freelance with their skills in order to work from home. The hows and whys are all different but the experiences are the same. It is hard work being self-employed and a mom.

I have seen some common threads and pitfalls with mompreneurs, and for most of them unfortunately, it leads to closing the business and returning to their pre-baby out-of-the-home job. Many thought that it was the children that were spoiling their dreams of entrepreneurship. A recent study by Harvard Business School (HBS) graduates, Robin Ely and Colleen Ammerman, and Hunter College sociologist, Pamela Stone, shows that high achieving women (and let’s face it, being a working mom takes a lot of skill and juggling) are giving up their careers because they are allowing their partners’ careers to take precedence over their own.

The vast majority of women graduating from HBS are not opting out of the workforce even if they have children (89% to be exact), yet over 50% of their male contemporaries would still prioritize their career over their partners’.

This is a very interesting fact since most people believe that the gender gap’s discrepancy with positions, income and accomplishments is due to women ‘opting out’ to have children. I have found this within the entrepreneurial space as well.

Sadly, even the language used around women and their entrepreneurial ventures is patronizing and limiting. I often hear women say that they have X number of months to make this work or their husbands say that they have to get a ‘real job’. It breaks my heart. There are so many things wrong with that statement… I will not get into all my socio-political rants just yet.

I would talk with my mom regularly about my experiences with clients, friends and with networking groups. I expressed how bizarre it was that women allow their start-ups to be called ‘not a real job’ or that they had to get permission to be home with their chid(ren) and run a business for just a trial run. These women would express to me that if they failed they would have to give it up to go get a ‘real job’. This language was, and still is, baffling to me. It is as if they also believed that being self-employed WHILE doing mothering work is not ‘real work’. My mom said that I was exaggerating and felt that I was just sensitive to this issue since I study it and read about it so regularly. I was visiting her in Vancouver while we were having this conversation and walking down the rainy streets of Gastown. Interestingly, as we were in the middle of this conversation, my mom bumped into her favourite pilates teacher who she had not seen in almost a year. Her teacher, an extremely fit woman in her early 40s, had her baby strapped to her front with a carrier. They were having a catch up and my mom explained that she had stopped going to that studio because she missed her teacher and would return if her teacher was coming back. Her teacher, a fully grown, independent, seemingly self-aware woman in her 40s replied, ‘I only teach occasionally when my husband lets me and will babysit the baby.’ I felt so sad that that was the language used for this woman and (full disclosure) I felt beyond smug that my mom got to hear first-hand the shenanigans that happen for women that are in pursuit of designing their very own work place.

My mom was so supported by my dad with whatever she wanted to do. She is a bad-ass woman and you can read more about her here. This was all so foreign to her and within her friend group. I wish that was my experience too. The National Post covered the HBS study and offered some suggestions to women who are high-achievers:

Marry someone with less social capital, ambition or money than you so that you can trust the attention will be on your career rather than theirs.

Marry someone 20+ years your senior so they are winding down their career while yours in ramping up.

These solutions all felt a bit, well, extreme to me. I feel that there are lots of preliminary points to discuss with your partner before starting a business venture to get you both on the same page. Yup, I feel a blog comin’ on. More to come on this and many other helpful tips for women in business!

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