It is a man’s world out there, women are warned when they decide to join the workforce. Don’t aim too high. Don’t let the focus shift from your house and kids, remember that should be your number one priority. Since the burden of rearing kids, managing homes mostly fall on moms even today, it is often assumed that they won’t give their hundred percent to “work”. Numerous people, men and women alike, often carry these stigmas to work with them. As a result, women have to struggle to be taken seriously. The biggest impact of these stigmas perhaps befalls ambitious women entrepreneurs who cannot shake the label of being moms first and businesswomen later.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Women entrepreneurs who are mothers often struggle hard to shake off the “mommy” tag.
  • Their talent and potential is overshadowed by doubt on their commitment towards their venture.
  • Do investors and employers assume that women will not give their hundred percent to their work as their attention will be more towards raising their family?

Joyce Shulman, the founder and CEO of the walking app 99 Walks and Macaroni Kid, recently wrote an article for Working Mother, recalling how a top boss at an equity firm discredited her entire venture, calling it “weekly email newsletter written by moms”. Shulman says she was approached by an equity firm looking at possibilities of investing in her company. He then copied her on the mail with his boss, to schedule a call. The boss in question, however, replied to the mail, without perhaps realising that Shulman was copied on it, writing, “Not for us. Looks like a weekly email newsletter written by moms.”

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Shulman isn’t the only woman struggling to be taken seriously as an entrepreneur courtesy being a mother, and employing mostly moms in her organisation. In fact, women entrepreneurs at large are struggling today to beat the gendered stigmas that keep investors away, especially in a patriarchal and conservative country such as ours, where gender-based biases are stronger and more rigidly held. India stood at 52nd position out of 57 countries in the  2018 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs. The sixth economic census conducted in 2014 says that merely 14 percent of women in our country own or run their own businesses. Furthermore, over 90 percent of ventures run by women are microenterprises, with 79 percent being self-financed, as per the data quoted in a report by the International Monetary Fund. So why is it harder for enterprises run by women to sustain themselves?

Last year, the video of a professor based in South Korea went viral, as his kids walked (read marched/rolled) into the room where he was giving a live video interview to a major global news channel. We all love that video, and the working dad, in fact, won a lot of accolades for not losing his temper with the kids, who actually altered the course of his big TV moment. One often wonders what would have happened if it was a mom who had been on the television that day, and her kids have marched in on her giving an interview? Wouldn’t she have been called incompetent? Lost her credentials as a “serious” candidate for future bytes? This is why moms should focus on caring for their kids and leave the work to dads, some would have touted.

Nobody wants to back an entrepreneurial venture where they are not confident about the commitment of the person steering it. And therein lies the problem.

These two separate incidents say a lot about our perception of ambitious working moms and dads. We applaud working men when they show signs of being good dads, but it is so difficult for hard-working women to break out from the mommy mould. This is one of the reasons so many women-led start-ups struggle to thrive or even float. It is given that once a woman has a family she will focus more on it, rather than her work. Nobody wants to back an entrepreneurial venture where they are not confident about the commitment of the person steering it. And therein lies the problem.

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We do not even realise how many fantastic ventures run by women aren’t getting the backing that they deserve because society cannot look beyond the outdated bias which causes them to focus only on the term “working mothers”. Yes, the change needs to happen both ways. We have to relieve women from the burden of household and parenting duties that lies solely with them, so that the chase for their entrepreneurial dreams becomes easier than it is. However, we also need the working class dominated by males, to rid itself of its gendered conditioning. Men have a big role to play both at homes and in offices if women-run businesses are to flourish (which will also be good for the economy, and we all need that, don’t we?) while women can start with being much kinder to other women. We can start with not judging any woman who dares to dream big and then works hard to realising it.

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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