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Women in Business

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.

Women bastardizing feminist terms at work.

Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In and COO for Facebook and mother of two (she is kind of a big deal!), continued the conversation about women in the corporate world in her 2013 book. In true fashion, this term ‘lean in’ somehow has been twisted and used as another weapon of war with women.

Recently I was talking to a female friend who had resigned from her corporate job that afternoon. We were discussing the conversation that had occurred between her and her female boss. When my friend, let’s call her Jane, started by saying she would be leaving the firm in 3 weeks, her boss immediately replied, “yes, I thought so, you have been ‘leaning out’ lately”. This response from her boss caught Jane off guard because that was not her experience at all. Rather than stepping back, she had thrown herself into her work as a last ditch effort to ensure she had tried it all before throwing in the towel. In fact, she had for the last month been working weekends too, clocking 50-70 hours per week at the office. 

“Leaning out”? Like no longer being ambitious, or expressing that she is no longer participating in the work force? What is ‘leaning out’? I am confident that Ms. Sandberg did not imagine further isolating working women by pitting one group, those that ‘lean in’ against the others, those that ‘lean out’. This Jane is a wife and mother. She is ambitious, a hard worker, and not afraid to get her hands dirty. And she did not like the culture where she was working. 

Stop using exhaustion as a badge of honour!

10 Guideposts for Wholehearted livingMs. Sandberg highlights that women are scared to even appear to be placing their families over their careers. In order to seem like work is their first priority, they overwork themselves as an overcompensation technique. Interestingly, in the book Daring GreatlyBrené Brown talks about the 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living. She urges individuals to stop wearing exhaustion like a badge of honour. Listen up mamas, she is talking to you!

It is extra hard for these women who are working in or out of the home, as well as doing the unpaid full-time job of ‘mom’. Work ethic in the office is based on hours clocked at work rather than achievements which is what it should be based on. On the whole, people are at their places of work more than before as the work day extensions continue. A recent Forbes study shows within the corporate world 62% of employees work more than 50 hours a week, and 10% work more than 80 hours per week. We do not have to turn to the corporate work to see this phenomena. The average person over 18 years of age with a full-time job in North America works 47 hours per week. While the office work day keeps getting longer, the research is telling a different story about productivity. In some cases working from home is actually more productive and Stanford Researcher professor Nicholas Bloom has proven this with his research.

Going back to Jane, when she took the job, she was told that there was a flex time arrangement and the option of working from home on days when there weren’t any client or team meetings was available. Like most women who are offered this, Jane was hesitant to take her boss up on the offer, as she did not want to jeopardize her career or appear less committed than her peers. A few times her sick child forced her to use her work-from-home card and, as suspected, her boss said ‘nice of you to join us’ the following day when Jane returned to the office. The best part about this?! Jane’s boss, her boss’s boss and the boss above them all are all women. 

What is ‘leaning out’?

So let’s look at this ‘leaning out’ comment again. Ms. Sandberg explicitly states that leaning out would be women removing themselves from the workplace, or turning down opportunities and promotions, because they are planning to get married or have children in the future. Women essentially pull out of the race too early and miss out on some of the career growth they would receive and satisfaction/impact that would come with it. It is not in reference to prioritizing the needs of your family while you hold a corporate job. In fact, she highlights that women need to be supporting women in the corporate world. That is how we are going to shift women being normalized and respected, rather than seen as tokens or anomalies, in the corporate world.

As Madeleine Albright says, ‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.’

Jane’s bosses missed an opportunity there! Rather than any kind of authentic exit conversation where each party got to express what was happening for them, if they wanted, it was an immediate put down. The vice president said that she assumed Jane was going to remove herself from the corporate world since her home life seemed to require a lot of attention. Wha?! Of course a spouse and child takes attention. Just as her office job did. How are we supposed to get anywhere ladies when we are stepping on one another?! That is what Ms. Sandberg was talking about! The days of tokenism are changing. There are more women in the corporate world, not as many as there should be, however, that number is growing. You do not have to step on one another in order to take the coveted leadership spot reserved for a female. If we want to stop the gender wars then we first need to stop the us versus us war that women are waging.

Doesn’t matter if you work in or out of the home or if you have children or not, take pause. Take a moment and ask yourself how you can help a woman in your life. How can you support her and move her forward towards her goals? If we all did a little more of this and a little less bullying, our overall success and happiness scores could only improve.

Any ideas how you can make a difference for women in your work place, family or community? We would love to hear about them! Comment below and let’s continue this conversation and make some changes!

Photo credit: Matt McClain for The Washington Post

The O.G. Mompreneur

I can lose hours of my day to blogs, Pinterest pages and Instagram channels filled with exciting products, fabulous concepts and passion pouring out of thousands of moms doing what they love. When I follow them I feel so charged and it makes me want to pull out my glue gun or my dusty never-used Kitchen Aid mixer that I got because I loved the colour. When people are writing or selling or making beautiful things it motivates me. I know that it has this effect on so many people… we can see the hashtag #PinterestFail as evidence of this. Those that create such beauty in their brand and business need to be honoured. They are taking a risk by putting themselves out there – heck it is scary as stink to do so! AND when they are doing it with children it makes it extra hard! Promise. So, I want to talk about mompreneurs that I think are cool as shit!

Bianca Sprague MompreneurOk, ok, I get it, my first post is about my mom. *Throw the popcorn and jeer now* however, hear me out! My mom is the O.G. mompreneur. She was the O.G. fill in the blank here for most things that are now main stream. Examples? Home schooling, home birth (which was illegal at the time), anti-vaxxer (this is not me opening up the vaccine debate!), sugar-free, vegan to vegetarian, flouride-free… you know the drill. She has chilled out on most of these things as we got older, but the 80’s were intense. Especially so since there was not a Whole Foods to be found. I can only imagine that it made our ‘life style’ challenging for her. 

Anyway, my mom, Dwaina Sprague, always had little projects on the go. She is one of those women that would have maintained a flawless Pinterest Page, if there had been Pinterest then, consisting of hand made fancy pillows, cross stitch patterns and Puff Paint sleep shirts (it was the 80’s). I did not get her crafting gene. I have more #Pinterestfails than successes. Our birthday parties were themed and lovely and fun in that wholesome way. She puts me to shame and she had 4 of us home. All. The. Time.

Many of her felt crafts or sewing projects would be displayed at the local craft fairs for sale. We would participate however we wanted as she worked away in her craft/sewing room. I would sort the pins into colour codes (yes, I have always been this way!), my brother would play cars at her feet, my older sister would be doing teenage things somewhere in the house and my baby sister would probably be strapped to my mom in the neon blue wrap she had made – I got to pick the colour, and she actually went with my selection.

She continued with her entrepreneurial ventures all through our lives. Her gumption grew as she found herself with more time the older we got. She went back to technical school and graduated from the Design program at BCIT. She started a little firm that she operated out of our home while we were at school – yes, my parents stuck us in private school for high school so that we could get our Dogwood certificate (BC’s high school diploma) and get into university.

When I went away for university, before my sheets were even cold, my bedroom was stripped of all my teenage qualities and her drafting board went up – and her business continued to grow. She eventually outgrew my bedroom/her home office and she moved her business, Good Space Design, to Gastown in Vancouver’s colourful lower East Side.

Bianca Dwaina SpragueMy mom no longer has little ones running around her feet. She no longer has to juggle client care with Costco grocery shopping, hockey practices and ballet recitals. She does continue to fill her days with her entrepreneurial ventures and philanthropic work. She does amazing work with Covenant House Vancouver! Her latest? She is sleeping on the street to raise money so that we can create more shelter beds for homeless youth. Yes, she is a saint practically… my siblings and I all think she is a little bit scary too, how else do you keep four high-spirited children in line?

My mom’s love of beautiful, cozy spaces, her attention to detail, her love of nurturing and caring for others, her super strong nature (she is fierce!), and her raw talent with most things has made her the O.G. Mompreneur to kick off the site. She has also made me the ballsy mompreneur that I am today. So, thanks mom!

The Sprague clan in 2011 with my parents and my sibs and two of the three grand-babies (we got to introduce one more grand-baby to the clan just last year!).

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!