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BiancaSprague

It’s NOT just boys versus girls anymore!

Recently I was forwarded this post from a dear friend of mine:

 

My friend added that the post made her think of me as I am always discussing and modifying language in my company bebo mia inc. Our business offers education and community support to practitioners that work in the field of fertility, pregnancy, birth and parenting. The changing landscape in reproductive health means that we need to (re)examine language. The modern family has shaken up the heteronormative model of cis-male and cis-female people having babies together. Motherhood and pregnancy was for women only. Yes, that still represents the majority, AND there are other shapes and configurations to the family and it is not just women or ‘mothers’ getting pregnant.

 

This shift means that we need to reevaluate our language.

 

My team uses terms like ‘pregnant person’ in class. This ensures that no one is erased. This term represents cis-females, surrogates, trans-males, gender non-conforming (GNC) folks, gender-queer people and any other identity someone who is pregnant relates to.

 

That said, when I am working 1-on-1 with a pregnant person I ask them how they identify and what language they prefer me to use. I let them name it. I let them tell me what they want.

 

The stance we have taken at bebo mia has made us targets to ‘feminists’ who are trans-phobic and who post hate speech on our social media wall and who leave bad reviews on Facebook. We are standing strong in our position that everyone becoming parents, and the practitioners who serve them, need to feel safe in our community. Every person choosing to have a child needs education, love, support, and evidence-based information. Who can argue with the point that this is a right for parents regardless of their sexuality, identity or gender-expression?

 

Ok, back to the ‘menstruators’ post above. I am hearing that this particular individual doesn’t like being referred to as a menstruator. Fine. I get that. That is her personal choice. However, as an academic, her statement above is completely erasing the fact that menstruation is not strictly for women and girls. It is open to people with a uterus during their fertility life cycle regardless of their gender expression.

 

The author of the post goes on with a weak argument around ejaculation (the weakness coming from the fact that any person could ejaculate) and I do not see eye-to-eye with said author until the end of her post (yes, I am assuming that this person would identify as a she/her). I agree that the shift for inclusivity needs to happen across the board.

 

Here is what I am seeing happen…

**And I want to preface that this is bullshit and we live in a society that teaches and validates this everywhere!**

 

Women are on the second rung of the ladder below men, with trans and GNC folks coming up on the third rung. Within the three buckets of cis-males (1) and cis-females (2) and people who would not identify with either of those limiting binaries for whatever reason (3) there is a hierarchy of ranking based on race, class, ability, sexuality etc. There is a heightened awareness around sexuality and gender expression and race happening, so yay to that. However, what seems to be happening is the clammer to the first rung and in the process we are stepping all over the people beside us or those that society deem below us. It is fucking terrible.

 

Do you know who is not getting pedantic with their language? The top of our flippin’ social food chain. The proverbial ‘they’ are not concerned with the ‘mother’ versus ‘birthing person’ debate. ‘They’ are not worried that trans men are not represented in the marketing materials for sanitary napkins. ‘They’ are sitting watching everyone below them on the ladder tear each other down and fight to take up space at the expense of one another.

 

Ok, ok, this is where the exceptions are highlighted to me in emails and on social media posts. “My brother/husband/son/dad __(fill in the feminist thing he does here)__.” Thank you to those individuals. AND this needs to be a social shift across the board. We need hundreds of million of brothers/husbands/sons/dads standing up and saying that we all deserve the same rights, space, opportunity, wages, language and media representation – to name a few.

 

This is not happening.

 

I was in a lecture led by CV Harquail recently and she was talking about how we need to smash the Kyriarchy and I just loved it. It is true. This is no longer a patriarchal issue. The Facebook post above is written by a woman that wants to hold her social spot on the ladder. By using inclusive language to have trans-men who menstruate represented alongside her means she would have to  share a piece of the pie and because it is perceived that we already do not have that much to share, people are scared to give it up.

 

This past weekend was the Women’s March and Alana and I opted out this year (we did attend in 2017 with a bebo mia crew). It was interesting to read the articles and blogs that came out over the weekend and it sparked a passionate conversation between Alana and I on Saturday night. Alana keeps me up on what is happening as she is on social media WAY more than I am. So, I give her full credit for tracking down and sharing with me the articles cited below!

 

The first tidbit that came through loud and clear was my point mentioned above. (White) women are fighting to take up space and in the meantime there is an issue of erasure for the trans community, for people of colour, for indigenous people and other marginalized communities. Reading about how the Halifax Women’s March was ‘roiled’ in division as marginalized people marched through with an offshoot organization to demonstrate the experience of erasure and their inherent lack of safety for marginalized people at the Women’s March. One trans-woman of African-Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq heritage, Jade Byard Peek, last year shared that she was uncomfortable at the 2017 march and she was sent death threats and told she was ‘an angry black man’ on social media for voicing her experiences.

 

It is heartbreaking to hear this.  

The turmoil continues. At the micro level we are too busy tearing one another down to notice that we are all clawing for the shitty piece of the minority & marginalized pie. It is not much better when we move into the macro levels. The 10 organizers from Canadian cities who participated in the 2017 Women’s March applied for recognition by Women’s March on Washington to have Women’s March Canada be a formal branch of the Women’s March National Board (WMNB).

 

They were told that they would have to formally apply to be on the board for the grassroots organization they already created. The 10 Canadians decided that they would not umbrella under the WMNB after all but not 48 hours later they discovered that a Canadian woman and and a US woman had registered the name Women’s March Canada and appointed themselves directors of the new organization. This new organization had locked out the 10 original organizers from their social media accounts for Women’s March Canada.

 

This forced the original Canadian organizers to branch off even further.

 

This took momentum from a movement here in Canada. A movement that was created to support American issues like the Muslim ban as well as issues closer to home like the missing and murdered Canadian Indigenous women. Instead of focusing energy and time on these important issues, Canadian organizers are starting from scratch with new organizations and wasting time dealing with the hostile take-over from WMNB.

 

Again, there is so much battling in the ranks that progress is slowed.

 

To hear reporters like Jordan Valerie Allen, a queer woman of colour share about her experience of the Women’s March as something that was further marginalizing and filled with hate is disappointing. She too opted to not support the 2018 March.

 

“With many organizers legitimately addressing the exclusivity of the pink pussy hat and its negative impact on transgender women of color, I hoped that the 2018 Women’s March would be better and that cisgender white women would listen to our cries for inclusivity and validation.

 

Alas, I was wrong. When I attempted to call attention to the exclusion of transgender women of color in Indivisible and Action Together groups, I was met with rage and dismissal.

An administrator of a New York Indivisible group defending pink pussy hats after receiving criticism from transgender women of color.

 

I was called “divisive,” “misguided,” and “ignorant” for simply requesting that folks like myself be included in the movement. Apparently, I just didn’t understand the pink pussy hat. Apparently, I was distracting from the “real issues,” as if the inclusion of transgender women of color isn’t a real issue. Apparently, I was being mean to self-proclaimed allies, who I should apparently trust despite the fact that they care more about their hats than my life and humanity.

Nonetheless, I hoped that I could change their minds. I hoped that with sincerity and openness, I could convince them to empathize and understand.

 

I was again wrong. When I begged for empathy and understanding, I received only scorn and hate.

 

The same administrator responding to criticism with an uncaring and cruel “Okay.”

I realized, as I have time and time again, that cisgender white women would rather silence transgender women of color than do something as simple as listen to us.”

 

Back to my original re-post of the Facebook ‘menstruators’ statement… Nowhere in there does it state the actions that need to happen to have a truly safe and equal representation in society. We need to have cis-men shifting the belief around masculinity and creating safe spaces for trans-men. Cis-men supporting the smashing of the ladder so everyone, regardless of race, sexulaity, gender, religion, class and ability are on an equal playing field. Cis-women need to share the reproductive space with trans-men who are choosing to become pregnant. We all need to take care of all the members of the communities around us.

 

We all deserve to be seen and recognized and included.

 

We cannot erase others, even if that means a shift in definition for inclusion. We need to share the space. Binaries are no longer applicable. Encourage those to be mindful of language.

 

Think of individuals rather than through a ‘them’ lens which is isolation and othering. Think of that person who doesn’t identify as ‘mother’ who is birthing their baby. That person has the same fears and concerns and excitements. They are becoming a parent. They need support. They need information. They need to be seen.

Connect. Share love. Be kind. Smash the ladder.

Smash the kyriarchy.

 

The magic of motherhood has been stolen…I know the thief!

NOTE: I want to touch on the gendered language I used in this post. I am a stickler for inclusive language – you can ask my students. I work really hard to make sure everyone feels heard and represented when I write and speak. In this post I am going to use the term ‘woman’ and in that I am talking to anyone who would like to identify with this term. I am also going to use the word ‘mother’ and again, I am including anyone who would identify in this. The issues I am talking about here are typically found in hetero-relationships, however, this is not exclusively the case. I am talking about work from home mothers, stay at home mothers, work out of the home mothers. No mommy wars here. No one is safe.

*   *   *

It has been a while since I have posted and for that I am sorry. I have been out of commission in many ways for the last little while. Firstly, I had a hysterectomy 2 weeks ago which was a flippin’ wild ride and I am very much still on the roller coaster of healing. I have yet to even begin processing the emotional and spiritual and sexual repercussions and how this has changed me as a woman. I have been documenting that journey on my business page here.

Aside from my surgery, I have also gone into my ‘mind-corner’ (I do my best thinking there) and I am re-evaluating where I am at in my life. I feel angry. I feel sad. My work feels like an uphill battle in a broken system and I cannot stand taking such a safe position anymore. It is making me rant daily (sorry Alana and Gray), I can feel it choking out my throat, I can feel it draining me. I am going to use my voice. I have outgrown my old skin. Safe is no longer comfortable. I cannot go back.

I have danced around it. I have justified. I have hinted. I have implied. I need to go straight ahead.

I am surrounded by amazing people. My community is wonderful. Choose a ring around me from my very closest and dearest to my arms length members and they are all wonderful as hell. My pre- and post- surgery support for me and my family was such a great indicator of that. Yet, I see a trend over and over again. Women, yes, I am speaking about my female-identified people, are living lives that are mediocre and well, shitty. They have shitty relationships. They feel shitty when they get up. They express they tolerate abuse in their relationships whether it is physical, emotional, financial or verbal. They are taken for granted. They have lost their voice.

My passion is to have women who are parents feel like they are financially and emotionally interindependent in their families. What is this made up word? Well, I heard it from the amazing Dr. CV Harquail  at the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum Toronto (#EEFTO) conference last month. It was such a perfect word. In the context of relationships, each member of the dyad (or more) can stand on their own financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually… however, they are better and more, together. This can be applied to people or objects…. like a tree versus a forest.

I always felt like this with Alana and could not come up with the word. We are kick ass individuals that together are magic and a force. Pull us apart and we are still pretty awesome.

So, where does my mission for financial and emotional interindependence for mothers come from? Well, I watch women put up with shit and I could not figure out why they would not take the leap towards demanding something better. Why stay? Why are they not insisting they are worth more? Why are they still making excuses for their partner that doesn’t support them? Or doesn’t treat them like the amazing humans that they are? Why are they sacrificing their needs EVERYWHERE and not just the occasional here and there that one does as a parent?

I was recently ranting about this to Alana in bed shortly before my surgery and it was late, and I was tired, and I had ranted over 6 – 8 times that day about different feminist topics and then it hit me. It hit me so hard I felt like such an asshole that it had not hit me earlier. The kids. We put up with so much because we primally want to have our children close. We want to know where they are sleeping. We want to hold them if we need to. We want eyes on them. We want to know what they ate. We want to know they are safe. When you leave, you lose that. Even if it is only here and there. Fuck, that is scary. I know. I did it. I feel like I have lost a limb when Gray walks out the door to visit my ex. I cannot sleep. I worry. I know she is not cared for properly. I know her emotional needs are stifled. I know she is shamed. The older she gets, the more she shares with Alana and I about this. I watch her scared to tell the other household how she feels when she is there. It is so hard knowing that she doesn’t sleep when she is there. She tells us that she feels better at home.

I have been doing this for almost a decade. I am not a parent that has my worth tied up in motherhood. Not at all. That piece is not a complication in my case and I still feel such loss when Gray is not in mine and Alana’s care or with someone I approve of caring for her.

So you stay. You stay and endure financial abuse. Untreated addiction and mental illness. Lost passion. No room for you to put your goals and plans as a priority. Crumbs of seemingly good acts from your partner that carry you through the next week of shit (like being ‘allowed’ to go out for a friend’s birthday dinner and drinks, but you still have to get up the next morning with the kids even though you had a late night since you used up your ‘you time’ on martinis).

We can have better. I want mothers to feel confident in their ability to take up the space with their wishes and wants. Also, it’s a bit ridiculous that I’m referring to a mother’s needs as wishes. I want mothers to have financial stability in their own right so they do not have to stay because they cannot afford anything else. I want mothers to use their voice and not be scared. I want mothers to sparkle. I want to help.

This is me declaring my mission. I have not figured out the middle steps yet. I trust that they will come. I want to hear from women who feel safe and confident and who are thriving in their household. Who can talk about their passions and know that they are respected as much as their partner’s passions. Who can safely tap into their powerful magic. Who feel like they are sparkling. I know you are unicorns. I know motherhood puts us in an inherent state of dependence. Of fear. Of sacrificial love. I do not know where to start picking this apart so I need help. I want to hear ideas. I want to hear stories. Together we can create better.

 

My Story – the jump off

I was recently asked by long-time parenting editor, writer and spokesperson Brandie Weikle, to write ‘my story’ for The New Family, a blog site that examines and celebrates modern family life.  Brandie is also the host of The New Family Podcast and Natasha (my business partner) and I got the pleasure of discussing possible careers through bebo mia for women who want to work from home – you can listen to that episode here.

The blog I wrote for was her 1000 Families project and it showcases the diversity of ‘family’. I was excited to share my story around my little queer family. Really excited. And really nervous. It took me a full week of just brain dumping before it started taking shape. I find a lot of shame in my story. I saw failure in my story. I saw a terrible mistake in my story. To clarify the latter, Gray was never a mistake, and who I chose to have her with was one of my biggest.

Honestly, I like having an ambiguity around where Gray came from. I hate when she says ‘at Dad’s house…’ in public. I almost want to shush her, I don’t, as I can see that is putting my sh*t on her. I feel like my sexuality is challenged in the story of Gray’s conception. Like, ohhh she’s “a lesbian”. I shouldn’t care, but I do. I want to yell, ‘I am really gay, if there was a scale, I would be off it. I love women. I don’t like men!’ Correction, I love one woman… And speaking of said woman, I feel like Alana is questioned as a parent with Gray’s story. It is so complicated when we step out of our protective bubble of our home and enter into the world.

So, in the interest of International Women’s Day where the theme is Be Bold (#beboldforchange), I am going to get vulnerable and share the rest of my story over the next couple months. All of it. Hold onto your hats.

Part one can be found here.

We Can Do Better

In 2016 my bebo mia inc. business partner Natasha Marchand and I were nominated for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. We were floored and excited and nervous as it felt like it was 3 to 5 years earlier than we would have expected to be in such a prestigious business competition. We loved hearing the the EY competition wanted more women and after almost 10 years in business, it was exciting to be playing on a bigger stage with previous Canadian winners like the powerhouse business Cirque Du Soleil.

The competition had multiple phases that involved applications, panel interviews, timed-video presentations and lightning-round judging with a couple hundred business owners vying for one of the 50 finalist spots for Ontario. While going through the competition steps we had to tighten up our messaging and get even more clear around our ‘why’, something that entrepreneurs typically do not carve out time for as they are busy working in their company rather than on it.

We made it through the initial application process and interviews and found ourselves at the judged lightning round event held at the Rotman School of Management on the beautiful University of Toronto campus. As we walked into the event space we immediately had the experience of ‘one of these things are not like the other’, well two, in our case. Our flowered dresses stood out amidst a sea of grey and black suits. We went right for the wine bar, grabbing a chicken skewer off the tray of a passing server and promptly broadcasted a Facebook Live video to our supportive community, giggling nervously as we updated them on the event thus far.

Sadly, we were not alone in our imposter feelings… According to François Tellier, EY’s Canadian Growth Markets Leader and National Director of EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year program,

When we talk with women who are finalists or even winners in our Entrepreneur Of The Year program, they seem shocked to have gotten that far. But they didn’t win by luck – they deserve to be there, and they can go much further.

Spoiler alert: we did not make it as a finalist.

We left the event feeling optimistic about our chances of proceeding to the next level which would have included fabulous gowns at the black tie gala held in October. We planned our outfits for days, finding that easier than considering that we did not get through as a finalist. We had to wait weeks for our letter to arrive in the mail! Spoiler alert: we did not make it as a finalist.

I was disappointed for the 48 hours after receiving the letter… ego bruised, beat-myself-up kinda disappointed. Then Natasha and I started talking about what to do for the next time we were nominated and this put jet fuel in our tanks!

Fast forward 3 months to November 24th, 2016 and the winners for all Canadian regions, as well as the overall winner for Canada, arrived in my email inbox. After meeting many of the Ontario nominees at the event in the summer I was excited to see who went through to the National level. Low and behold the finalists and overall winner were men. White men. Our province, Ontario, was represented by Steven K. Hudson of the publicly-traded Element Financial Corporation (TSX: EFN) (TSX: ECN) with over $25 billion in assets. It was laughable to think that we were even in the same competition.

My first response reaction was outrage. I paced and ranted while Natasha and Alana (my other half) watched me over their lunches. We all started discussing where the heck the women were. Are they not interested in business? No, we know that women are starting businesses at a rate not that far off from our male counterparts, however, when it comes to having employees or expanding into international markets, that is where we fall off the charts. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) March 2013 Canadian report, women hold the majority for solopreneur and service sector businesses, which traditionally see lower growth potential and profitability.

Why are women in business staying so small and what can we do to change it?

One of the biggest barriers for women is education, without which scalability is less attainable, however, I feel like the answer is more simple than that. The gender gap is still present and continues to grow. According to the World Economic Forum, Gender Parity for Canada, which is ranked 35th in the world, is still 170 years away and we just keep slipping backwards, widening the gender gap! As far as education goes, according to the Disrupting the Disruptors report, Canada placed 5th in entrepreneurship education among G20 nations, behind the US, Australia, Japan and France. We can do better!!!

EY recognizes that gender disparity exists so they have a separate program called Entrepreneurial Winning Women. It is an executive leadership program that identifies a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs whose businesses show real potential to scale — and then helps them do it. This is a really lovely idea… With only 2% of female-owned businesses with revenue over $1 million in the US, and an even smaller percentage in Canada, I feel like this program will not raise the overall female stats. It seems to be additional support for the female minority that would already have revenue exceeding $1 million.  

Digital is evening the playing field 

It is not all doom and gloom for women in business, especially with scalability and reaching global markets. How you ask?  With the wave of digital businesses sprouting up we are seeing those start-up barriers to entry reduced for new business ideas and there is a fabulous platform for targeted fundraising. Through the digital channel you can offer mentorship, education and community. I know for my business, bebo mia inc. the online space allowed Natasha and I to access women all over the world and our business growth curve is almost a vertical line. We also have the pleasure of consulting for hundreds of women who can create viable businesses in the digital space while raising their children.

With the Women’s March on Washington in Toronto this week I also felt hopeful about women standing together to fight for equality. To fight for agency over our bodies, to believe survivors of sexual abuse, for equal pay, to close the gender gap, for maternity leave, for trans rights, for women of colour to have the same rights as their white sisters, to stop the objectification of our bodies, to stop violence against us.

Women succeeding as entrepreneurs is heavily intertwined with these complicated sociopolitical issues. Yes, there are days that I feel defeated and held down and limited by the system I have to work within but most of the time I feel excited and inspired and committed to seeing women kick ass in their businesses and with their families and within their communities. I feel proud to be from the city that is ranked number 1 in the world for having the culture to support female entrepreneurs. So ladies, let’s commit to marching everyday! Let’s march to get our hands on the education we want and deserve, the resources we will need to succeed and the recognition and pay we have earned. Let’s march to support one another and lift one another up. We will not rise, until we rise as one.

 

Just because I work from home…

There is an interesting thing that happens when you work from home. People think you are not working, or more like they know you work but you are not really at work. There are the obvious things that I think are awesome about working from home:

  • I can do a conference call in my underpants and no one knows.
  • I do not have to pack a lunch, which is up there in my top 759 things that I hate doing.
  • There is no commute time to work, unless you count walking up the stairs from my bedroom to my home office.
  • During my breaks I can nap and naps are in my top 25 things that I love.
  • I can still work when I am sick… even ugly sick.

The flip side to this awesomeness are problems such as:

  • Sometimes I miss chunks of my work day because the house needs to be cleaned and I cannot work in messy spaces.
  • People pop in randomly or call whenever because they know I am ‘always just home’.
  • My spouse will ask me to do favours and domestic tasks ‘since I am at home’.
  • I never get away from my workplace.
  • My child thinks I ‘always work’ because she experiences me as ‘only in my office’ (which is completely impossible since I drive her to and from school, clean the house, grocery shop, do fun outings, play with her (ok, well we read together), and cook etc. I have to leave my office to do those things!

It is amazing what happens sometimes during my work day. Recently I was leading a webinar for over 100 women, which I do at least once or twice per week. My neighbour, an avid gardener, picked some amazing tomatoes and kale from his garden for me and my girls. I do everything with the doors and windows of my house wide open, assuming we are not in the middle of Toronto’s terrible minus 30 winters. My neighbour, seeing into my office from my back porch, starts talking to me at my back door. I waved and did an exaggerated tap on my head set, indicating I was teaching. Ignoring my frantic gestures, he proceeded to tell me about the state of the tomatoes after the raccoons got to them. I was floored. I really do love my neighbour AND I was at work, yet because he could see me in my house, it was chat time.

Yes, like all my rants, I have a solution that helps you get more done and creates boundaries when working from home.

Get Everyone on Board

I find that the more I communicate, the more success I have around getting my needs met. I know some things seem like common sense to you, however, for the people around you they may not seem as obvious. Just remember, people are not mind readers! Set everyone up for success by clearly communicating what you want and focus less on the things that you do not want. I would suggest talking to your friends, partner (if you have one), neighbours (if you have that kind of relationship), and anyone else in your family or community that needs to get on board. How would such a conversation go?

I am so excited about what I am building with my business right now! I have a goal of _______ and for me to reach that goal I would love your support. The best ways to support me with this would be to help me protect my work hours of 9am – 3pm. During this time I will not be taking any personal calls or visitors. I am also committed to working only on my business in that time slot and won’t be available to run errands, go for lunch, work on housework, etc. Thank you so much for being such a great cheerleader for me!

Obviously the script/speech would be modified depending on the person and what actions you are looking for. If you are not doing a household task during your work time and you are talking to a roommate or partner, I would suggest adding an alternate time that you will be able to do that task or have a discussion about contracting that task out. More to come on this!

Contracting Out

This is not necessarily where I am going to tell you to get a housecleaner, however, this would be the appropriate place to have that talk. I know that I hate mess! Like, HATE it. I cannot work when I look out of my office door and see dishes on the kitchen counter, or a mountain of shoes at the back door, or a pile of mail, school permission forms and birthday invitations that have been gathered up and dumped on my office desk. I need to work in an organized space. I also really love hitting my goals. Which one do I like more? Goals and targets! It does mean that my wife and I have to schedule cleaning times in other places in the week because I cannot compromise my value of order. Any job that you can afford to hire someone else to do, do it! If you can hire someone for $15/hr to do certain  jobs which frees you up to make a $1000, then it makes sense to do that. 

There are also really great services that will save you time. Some examples would be online banking and automated bill payments, click and deliver grocery services, dog walkers, local baby sitters, and Groupon regularly has housekeeping services on special.

Being on AND off!

This is one that is a bit harder, at least I struggle with it… When you are working, you are working and when you are with your family or having you time, you are doing that! People have so many ways of getting in touch with you these days: text, calling, email, Facebook chat, Whatsapp, etc. This means it is easy to get sucked into notification overload and your whole day gets lost as you respond to everyone in real time. Just because your phone and computer tells you someone wants or needs you, does not mean that you need to be available to them. If you are having dinner or watching a movie or creative writing or doing a craft with your little one(s) that is what you are doing. Those alerts can wait, unless it is an emergency for a client. NOTE: Do not hear the ’emergency’ loophole as me giving you permission to allow work to bleed into all of your activities. An emergency is something like your client is in labour and you are a birth worker, or your time sensitive product has not arrived by the needed time/day, or one of your staff is sick and will not make their shift.

Not sure if your alert counts as a business emergency? Here is the test: Will the outcome be different/negative if you finish your personal activity and deal with it in an hour or 3? If you answered no, then keep doin’ what you are doin’! If it is yes, then pause what you are doing, put out the fire, then get back to your original task. 

Protecting your personal AND business time is crucial. Turning off your alerts while you are taking time away from the business will allow you to take a breather from work and recharge with your family, friends and solo time. I know that I am saying, “Oh, just do x…..” and it is way harder than that. I promise you that your stress level will decrease, you will be more present and you will enjoy your time and your work time more. Added bonus – your people will like it more too! It is irritating when people are doing something with you like chatting, playing cards, or having dinner and you are on your phone. It leaves them with the experience that they are not as important as what you are doing.

Anyone that works from home will recognize that there are really amazing things, again restating my love of doing conference calls in my underpants and there are some more challenging things for work from home moms. Taking the time to set up your systems and having those important conversations to get everyone on board will smooth out most of the bumps!

What are your biggest challenges as a work-from-home parent? Please share below and let me know how you did with implementing the tips. Keep kickin’ ass, mamas!

Bianca Sprague meets Green at Home

So, for those of you that don’t know this about me, I am an introvert. Yes, I teach and talk in large groups. Yes, I go out and do social things. The difference is I need to prep myself to do these things and then when I am done, I need to recover with quiet and sleep… sometimes for a day or two. The funny thing about this is I partnered with super extroverts with my best friend, my business partner and my wife. This means I get dragged out to a lot of events. One of these said events was a mixer that was put on by Mamas & Co. for entrepreneurial mamas. Natasha, my business partner, had been a representative for our company with the Mamas & Co. group… or I thought it worked that way. It turns out I also needed to go and be a part of the community.

I was really glad I did!

I had the opportunity to meet dozens of amazing women who were hustling in my area of Toronto, or in the online space. One of these women was Emma Rohmann, the owner Green at Home and co-founder of Mamas & Co., and is a mom to two little ones. Green at Home is for the eco-friendly and health-conscious and they offer amazing resources, services and workshops to get toxins out of your home. Emma started the business while on her second mat leave with her children being the driving force behind the project. After “living green” for over a decade, Emma started digging deeper to make sure she was making the best choices for her family.

bebo miaOne of the many things I love about Emma, aside from the fact that she is also a ginger (we have to stick together), is  that she is non-judgemental with the work that she does. Natasha and I had hosted a lunch BBQ and I shared my love of bleach. Ok, I realize it is terrible toxic stuff, and I love it. I am not ready to give it up. Rather than shaming the heck out of me, which is totally justified, she explained that there are lots of options to replace it and get it out of my home. Not ready to kick my bleach habit, I am closer though, and armed with more info than I was before our delicious wine and grub.

Wading through all the information.

Emma recognizes that there is a lot of information, and misinformation, out there about green living which is stressful or overwhelming for individuals trying to get the scoop.

I did my own research and started blogging to create a more balanced conversation based on facts. I want to make sure my work has meaning, and that I can tell my kids I tried to create a better world for them to grow up in.

And I would call that an amazing mission and passion.

OK, let’s talk about the business side of Emma… Like most moms with their own business, Emma finds it challenging to ‘turn off’ when it comes to her work. Yes, it is awesome being your own boss and she recognizes how hard it is to not keep working away on & in your business.

Being the only one who can make it a success (or failure) puts a lot of pressure on me, and I find myself thinking up ideas and stressing over things at all hours.

Coming from an engineering background, Emma used to have to track her time and now she gets to make her own schedule, which is such a gift when you have children. You can be with them when they are sick, park dates can be incorporated into that 9-5 window and you can do day trips without having to get approval from your boss. Amen! That is why I do my work too!

And the partner piece…?

Emma’s husband is really supportive of her work! In fact, she says that he was championing for her to leave her day job before Emma recognized that this is what she wanted to do!

When I was balancing my day job, Green at Home, and the networking and educational group I co-lead for moms who run their own business (Mamas & Co.), I ended up spending all my free time on my side projects instead of with him. He was incredibly patient, and definitely a key player in the decision to take the leap to entrepreneurship full-time.

I love hearing this so much! I makes all the difference in the world when you have your partner on board with your business plans and goals. It takes more than just a supportive partner, obviously. Emma shares her tips for women who are thinking about starting their own business:

Find a tribe. Like raising a child, it’s so important to have support and encouragement as you build your business. Network and build relationships with like-minded people – it’s amazing what a small world it is when you start connecting with people!

She helps families create a healthier, happier home, simply. She also helps small businesses who want to build their brand to reach the eco- & health-conscious consumer. If you want to know more about Emma, which I suggest that you do, here is everything you will need:

Thank you, Emma, for making the world a better place for all of our children!

Eco Baby Certification

Want to learn from Emma and the bebo mia gals? Check out the Eco Baby Certification so you can be a green expert! If you work with expecting and new families, this certification will help you navigate through the overwhelming eco & green space to support wellness for them and their little ones!

 

Getting the most out of the hours in your day!

You may have your little ones at home with you, or you may have school-aged children, either way, you will need to be disciplined about how you schedule your time to get the most out of the time you have. Without a structure, I found that my clients would complain that they found they NEVER had enough minutes in the day to finish everything that they needed to get done. I get it! There have been days that I have taken Gray to school, come home to my home office, make breakfast, I blink and it is school pick-up time. Those are the days that I wing it. What makes the wing-it days different? Well, I am ALL over the place on those days. Wherever my brain floats or whatever my fingers type in the URL box is what I work on. Ya, I get a couple little things done here and there, but overall I would say the day is wasted. I have clients that live every day like this!

Where the hell does the time go?!

Unitasking When I allow myself to flit all over my first 3 hours will look like this: I will open my email and delete all the shit I keep forgetting to unsubscribe to, respond to the first few client emails, some email from my mom will remind me to wish a cousin happy birthday on Facebook, once in Facebook I lose 45 minutes to something or other, then a client will text asking to resend their invoice, I will open the invoicing program and see who else had not paid and then go over to my email to remind them all after cross referencing with PayPal and my online banking account, which will remind me to open my personal account to pay the hydro bill, then my wife will call asking about dinner and then I will start looking up recipes (not sure why, I always make the same things) and suddenly it is lunch. Where the heck did my morning go? I only have 6 hours a day to run my businesses so I CANNOT afford to have this happen. Can you relate to this?!

So, we know we have all been guilty of this, now what can we do about it? There are five steps that should help you maximize your time:

  1. Unitasking – when you start a task, see that one through until you are finished. If it is doing your product ordering, just do that until it is finished. Do not jump on Facebook, or get lost in your email, or send your invoices. This saves you time and brain power because you get laser focused and do not have to flip around and catch up with the new task every time. When possible, you can set a timer too so that tasks do not suck up too much time. This will ensure that you have time to work in and on your business.
  2. Bundling – Do all the tasks that are the same together. What does this mean? Well, if you have to put on your finance hat, do all the money tasks on the same day, or in the same work slot. I know that when I start working on the books or invoices or banking and change to something else, it takes me 5-15 minutes just to get me back on track from where I was before I left the task. Doing that repeatedly in a day or week or month would add up to lots of wasted time that we just do not have the luxury of giving up! When you are jumping on the phone to call people back or do sales calls, do them all together. You will fly through them and cross that off your to-do list in one fell swoop. Also, when I have to go out of the house, see clients or do sales meetings I like to do my self up more than when I am working in my home office. If I do not have to do that everyday, I won’t! I save that ‘getting presentable’ time by making sure I book my non-sweatpant meetings all in one chunk.
  3. Do your creative tasks in the morning – If I start my day with emails or ‘busy tasks’ I miss the window when my creative juices are a flowin’. This time slot, if possible, should be for your marketing material creation, idea mapping, blog or article or script writing, video making or similar tasks.
  4. Plan your weeks in advance – Pick a day to be your planning day and get clear with what you need to accomplish for the next week/month. Then break those larger goals down into bite-sized tasks and divvy them up over the week. The clearer you are with your task lists, when you get those precious hands-free windows you are not thinking about what you need to do in those slots, you are jumping right into action.
  5. Planning your day the night before – This may seem like it is the same as step 4, it is not. This is a more micro tip. Before going to bed, make a list of what you have on the docket for the next day. This would include getting client packages together, putting materials in the car, packing supplies in your kits or bags, getting items for shipping ready, etc. You can also get outfits ready, if applicable, or do those sorts of prep tasks. Doing this has a dual purpose. First, you are über organized for the next day and second, you usually sleep better when you are not trying to remember your mental lists of what you need to do over the next 24-72 hours. Anyone else run through stuff over and over in their head when it is not written down somewhere?

How you keep track of your lists and schedule and goals is up to you. I use Google Calendar and lots of post-its. I put sticky notes everywhere to remind me what to do and to make my daily lists the night before. They are on my front door so I don’t leave items I will need, they are on my desk with bigger projects to plug away on, and they are always on my laptop to prevent me from multitasking. Rather than flipping over to a new task when something pops into my head, I write it on a post-it and get to it when I am done my daily items. This saves me so much time! I have clients that use a white board or a spreadsheet or a wall calendar or poster board. Whatever tools you will find the most helpful for you, use those.

I would love to hear how these tips worked for you and your life and business. Please leave a comment with what worked and share any tips that you find streamlines your week!

Challenging Gender Norms Through Soccer

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending my third Canadian Sport Film Festival here in Toronto. Full disclosure: my wife sits on the advisory board, so my attendance is not optional, however, I have been moved every year by the fabulous films selected by the committee and this year was no exception! My derby team, the GTA RollerGirls, was the sponsor for one of the films about transgendered players in roller derby, so I watched the first film in my smelly gear after skating around the theatre to get viewers excited about In The Turn. Before I go on, trust me, this ties into business…

The night finished with a double feature that sent me on an emotional roller coaster ride. The first of the two was called Fighting For Freedom, and it was the North American premiere screening that followed the Rahimi sisters from Afghanistan who rank as the best female boxers in the country. They are Olympic contenders, yet cannot compete due to the fact that they are women. The family is regularly threatened for having physically active women and ultimately the government fires their coach and bans the girls from training because it is believed that the Rahimi sisters would flee Afghanistan should they be allowed to travel for competitions and training in Europe. It finished and I felt so defeated around women’s rights here in Canada and overseas.

Without a moment of pause after the previous documentary’s closing credits Zanzibar Soccer Dreams starts and already the mood feels more hopeful. A sequel to the Zanzibar Soccer Queens, a 2007 documentary, Zanzibar Soccer Dreams checks in to see where the ladies are now. I did not see the first of the two soccer films but I followed along just fine and I found the story so uplifting and hopeful. Director Florence Ayisi explores the women’s movement through soccer on the beautiful island of Zanzibar, a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. Women started playing soccer there under the coaching of Nassra Mohammed, which was unheard of in the Islamic state when the concept was first introduced in the 1980s.

Women were described as hooligans, it was believed soccer would ruin their chances at marriage, and it was unacceptable to see them with their heads uncovered or skin showing while they played. In 2009, things changed dramatically for the Muslim women of the team, Women Fighters FC, when they were invited to Germany to play. This put the women of Zanzibar on a global stage and the country felt pride for their accomplishment. The team members started walking around in their soccer track suits and had gained respect and even a following from the men who had just recently admonished their playing.

Florence AyisiThe trip to Germany was an important one, as it started a movement. Women from surrounding communities started their own soccer teams. It was fabulous to watch these barefoot women play while their children or friends sat on the sidelines watching. The next step was for Coach Nassra to get the soccer programs into schools. There are still observant Muslims that feel that girls playing soccer is unacceptable but overall the people of Zanzibar are excited to get behind the programs.

Women’s soccer as a vehicle for change.

The film was wonderful and at the end, to everyone’s surprise, the director Florence was there for a Q&A session along with Coach Nassra, who had come from the UK and Zanzibar respectively. The questions were fabulous and added to the high we were all feeling after such a hopeful documentary. One of the audience members asked Florence about her reasons for making the documentary and she answered beautifully that sport, soccer specifically, was just the vehicle for change. It could have been anything, it just happened to be that soccer was what empowered the women of Zanzibar and offered rights and opportunities that did not previously exist. She was awesome! There was a great discussion for another 30 minutes and then we all shuffled, stiff legged after 4 hours of sitting, over to the wrap-up party for the Board members and their spouses.

Florence AyisiWell, the introvert in me wanted to head home to bed, even if it meant going alone, and I was sure glad I chose to go to the pub… because guess who sits at my little cocktail table?! Yes, the director of Zanzibar Soccer Dreams, Florence Ayisi. Well, didn’t I almost burst to be munching on french fries while asking her all my burning questions. My first question was regarding the women and the opportunities that she mentioned in the film and the Q&A.

What were their opportunities after playing soccer, aside from social empowerment and community clout?

She told Alana (the wife) and I about the jobs that come to the women that play on the soccer team, Women Fighters FC. The military and the police force come to recruit these fit and strong women. There are also government jobs available to them that were not even a consideration before the days of women’s soccer. It was great to hear.

My next question – yup, of course, how did the husbands fit into this?

She explained that the husbands who supported their wives playing were typically quite proud of their soccer abilities. The general attitude was not one of resentment but rather pride. Several of the husbands would drive their spouses to the practice area on the back of their motorcycles and dirt bikes. One of the women in the follow up film shares that her husband was not supportive of her soccer, among other issues I am guessing, and so she divorced him. Since 2007 she has remarried and is expecting her first baby. Her new husband likes sports and supports her completely so she has been playing for the last 10 years and will be returning to the game after she has her baby.

We chatted about how often women give up their careers and hobbies because it is too taxing on their partners, especially when children are involved. It was amazing to see that this was not happening in a Muslim state where women have few of the rights and freedoms relative to their North American contemporaries. Their partners, community, and country rallied around them and supported their practicing and playing.

Florence asked me what I did, and I explained that I also support women in a couple different channels, mostly through education with the bebo mia online doula college and through business support. I explained our scholarship program and my business partner’s and my goal to support women while they connect to their value and power through skilled work, education and financial security. I loved hearing her say we did the same things with different vehicles.

We wrapped up the night well after midnight and I was buzzing from having such a gift in my evening with the films and my talk with Florence. I am heading to her neck of the woods this summer with Alana and our daughter and I am excited for the opportunity to see her again. If you can get your hands on a copy of either of her women’s soccer films, I highly recommend them.

Florence – Thank you for continuing to tell the world about the amazing social changes for women that are happening because of individuals like Coach Nassra. And thank you for doing it in such a wonderful way and for documenting these movements and ensuring that they reach the global stage. It was an honour to be in your company!

Bianca Sprague meets Little Fox & Froggie

I teach an online course called the Maternal Support Practitioner Training for my business bebo mia inc. It is a doula training that covers fertility to the first 6 months postpartum. We offer two sessions a year and running it is a highlight for me! The women it attracts are dynamic and interesting and from all over the world, so their stories and backgrounds make for a wonderful group of humans. One of the exercises we do in the first couple of classes is each student needs to draw the female reproductive organs from memory without looking at Google or any other references for help. I have opened hundreds of emails over the years looking at sketches on scraps of paper, or written on the back of colouring books, or some more Type A gals do colour coded drawings, with question marks as buffers next to answers they are 90% sure are correct. This year my mind was blown.

I received this:

Little Fox & Froggie

Stumbling Across Little Fox & Froggie…

Immediately, I was sooooo in love. I emailed my business partner, Natasha, and told her about it. We thought it was so fun and different and wonderful and beautiful. Natasha explained that Ella Simioni – the woman who submitted this gem – was an artist and sent me over to her business site. That is how I came to fall in love with Little Fox & Froggie.

I reached out to her immediately. Firstly, she lovingly shipped me the original of the uterus drawing for my office (plus some other little goodies) and then she shared why she did the assignment the way she did. She told me that the female reproductive organs reminded her of an elephant’s head and she vividly recalls waiting in her midwifery office during her prenatal appointments and staring at a poster they had of the lady parts required to make and grow a baby. This was her rendition based on her pregnancy memories and the elephant-faced-uterus and friends.

Lil’ bit about Ella.

Ella SimioniElla is a Toronto mama to two littles called Mia and Kipling, or Kip as they call him, who are 6 and 4. I loved her and her brand even more when I heard her fabulous kid names. Clearly, Ella always had this great talent as an artist, however, she didn’t start her children’s illustrations business, a dream she always had, until after having children – she says that they inspired the name for her business. Kids will do that! Interestingly, her Grammoo (which I am going to assume is one of her grandparents) told her to be a greeting card maker. Such wise words, Grammoo!

Ella just oozes whimsy with everything she touches! It is magical. And she shared some beautiful pearls o’wisdom for women who are considering starting their own adventure in business:

Start from where you know, be true to yourself, be real, and try your best to ignore the inner critics – they’re almost always wrong!

Like most self-employed people, Ella enjoys the flexibility of setting her own hours and deciding when and how much she wants to work. She loves her extra cuddle time with the kids, her ‘spontaneous adventures’ and outings such as trips to the library. On the flip side, when you are running a household while juggling two children and a business, it can be hard to fit in the amount of quality time with your children that you would like to have. I know that struggle is real! I love that I get to pick up Gray from school and have her home with me. AND, I cannot have my work day end at 3pm, so I need to work until at least 5pm which still disappoints her. Every. Day.

And… the partner piece?

OK, then we got into the partner portion of her life and business. When you are doing freelance work, it is unpredictable at best. Some of my friends who work freelance talk about the feast or famine aspects and that can be an added stress for a mompreneur. What does her husband say about it all?

I’m fortunate to have a husband who values my being home and working on my own endeavours. He never challenges my slow times – which I thoroughly appreciate. 

Once again I found an entrepreneurial mama who is following her passion and who has the support of her partner. Whoop! I love finding these women since the research stats are clearly showing the support is not there, from husbands, in the vast majority of cases. Thank you, Mr. Little Fox & Froggie!

I wrapped up her interview with an ‘any final comments’ kind of question. Her answer? “Follow your joy.”

Amen sister.

I strongly suggest that you head over via any of the ways that you can get a hold of Little Fox & Froggie – She does fabulous cards and illustrations and nursery art – you will be sure to give a memorable and original gift! You can email her here, or go over to her Facebook page or Instagram channel.

 

Bianca Sprague and Ella Simioni

The NBA is LeaningIn

My recent blog post started a great discussion on my Facebook Pages – thank you to all those that contributed! A friend of mine brought up the position the NBA is taking with the LeanIn movement. They are getting involved with a campaign that has quite a few worthy objectives – one of which is encouraging couples to be 50/50 in their partnership. They offer some great advice and have included a service that will text you tips to your phone through the week so couples can strengthen their support of one another. Players such as LeBron James and Russel Westbrook are getting involved with the LeanIn.org and NBA collaborative. What are some of the highlights of the NBA LeaningIn?

  1. Communicate Openly – Stats show that women are interrupted more than men, so male partners need to ensure that they are giving female partners the space and time to speak.
  2. Make Decisions as a Team – With over 50% of millennial men believing their careers will take priority over their female partners, there is already an uneven playing field around couples’ goals and expectations.
  3. Do Your Share at Home – only 9% (yes, that low) of two-income households say that they share the household chores evenly, even when the females are the breadwinners! Male partners, do your part at home, it makes everyone happier = more sex… Hey-o!
  4. Encourage your Partner to LeanIn – Women struggle to negotiate (4 times less likely to than men actually), so by encouraging female partners to do so means more money, more promotions, and better self-confidence. This is when role playing at home in order to practice helps.
  5. Model Equality – Breakdown gender stereotypes for your children and communicate the wide range of values both parents find important. Teaching your children to express feelings and speak up for themselves will lead to healthier little ones which can only make the world a better place, right?!

Russel Westbrook NBA

 

The campaign does a big focus on home life, being a strong partner and being a better dad, however, it doesn’t stop there. It goes on to clearly state simple action items men can do to support women leaning in, in the workplace. It made me sad to read them actually. I know we are still back at baby steps here and it does not make it an easier pill to swallow. Some of the tips?

  1. To challenge the “likability penalty” women suffer – you know, the Sophie’s Choice of do I show my strength and competency OR have people like me? How can men support women breaking through this? When a man hears that someone is calling a woman ‘bossy’ or ‘shrill’, he can ask for specific examples and they question if it would be the case if a man did it.
  2. Give women credit – I am getting sadder by the sentence…
  3. Evaluate performance fairly – did you know that if you change the name on a resume from a woman’s to a man’s the hire-ability rate immediately goes up 61%. Yup, crying now.
  4. Share the office housekeeping – When women fail to help they drop 14% lower in favourability over men and if a man helps out with these tasks his favourability goes up 12% higher over a woman’s who does the same thing. Oy vey. That is a case of damned if you do and even more damned if you don’t!

LeBron James NBA

I know that these tips and suggestions have a goal to create more equality in the home and in the workplace. Something about it really bums me out. They are such small things, like letting women speak and consider their ideas at home and at work and don’t have them clean your office because it should not be a social expectation. The NBA is a big brand and I am hoping it has the impact to inch us forward toward equality at home and at work. Hell, we need it! In Canada, over the last 40 years women to men wages went up from 77 cents to the dollar in 1977 to 82 cents to the dollar in 2015. 5 cents! In 40 years! Even the cost of Heinz ketchup went up 2632% over the same time period.

These steps are important, they just feel so damn small! Thank you to the men that see women as equals. Thank you to the husbands and male partners that are great dads and good husbands and kind citizens of their communities. Pass on your pearls of wisdom to everyone that will listen.

I appreciate that this is predominantly based on heterosexual relationships. I am not NOT acknowledging the complications that happen in same sex relationships, hell I know all about those! This campaign is founded on the male social positions relative to females. I will be discussing same sex relationships as well on the site.

I would love to hear how you feel about this campaign and the whole LeanIn movement. How do you think it will make a difference?

Closing thoughts by my wife (an avid and passionate basketball player, coach & fan):

I feel that this campaign propagates a heteronormative culture. While it takes very tiny steps forward for women, it takes a giant step back when we consider the many types of relationships and marriages that now exist. I fear that this will cause some inherent shaming for male athletes that are openly gay, or thinking about coming out.

Interestingly, after she was done passionately speaking about the issue, she considered reneging on the quote to not seem like ‘an angry lesbian’ or ‘too intense’. Perfect example. Mic drop, I’m out.