Entrepreneurship is demanding, relentless and 24X7. So is motherhood. What happens when a woman entrepreneur gets pregnant? What happens when the challenge is to power through contractions and a couple of meetings simultaneously? When it comes to choosing between their business and their soon-to come baby, how do women entrepreneurs prioritise? And more interestingly, what are the misconceptions and sexism they must now additionally battle? SheThePeople.TV has the answers.
We asked a few women who are successful entrepreneurs and hands-on moms on how they owned both
Naiyya Saggi, founder of BabyChakra spoke about her own personal experience. She says, “I ended up running the company and waddling into pitch meetings till pretty much the day before delivery. Also, after the baby was born, I pushed myself to get back on my feet and just 2 weeks later I was back in office. My board colleagues and team members were always super supportive of me throughout the period of pregnancy till I came back to work. In fact I got nothing but congratulatory messages from them, gifts and lots of support.”
Hiding pregnancy from investors
Many are supported by a great team but that’s not the case with all women entrepreneurs. Some of them hide their pregnancy from their investors fearing judgement and rejection. Talia Goldstein, founder and CEO of Three Day Rule, in a blog which she wrote way back in 2015 said, “So, I made what I thought was my only choice: I hid my pregnancy from investors, from family, even from my own business partner. I didn’t want her to walk into pitch meetings feeling insecure. Instead, I chose to wear ponchos and baggy clothing,” according to Fortune.
While she was in a dilemma whether or not to reveal the secret, the insecurity about the outcome got to her completely. “But I knew that I had a better chance of raising money looking ridiculous than I would looking pregnant,” she added. After the truth came out, one of her friends asked her “How can a pregnant lady run a dating site?” When she asked why he didn’t feel that way about married male founders, his reply was: “Married people still go to events and bars. Women with babies stay at home.”
Monalisa Dani, founder of Pixights, says her business was only three months old when she discovered she was pregnant. So, how did she manage to run a small business while nurturing two babies simultaneously? Monalisa says, “While being ecstatic over the pregnancy, I was also completely freaking out on how I would keep the momentum going in my business which had just started off with a bang. It is an unwavering truth that there is an innate distrust of pregnant women from clients who feel that a woman would automatically de-prioritise their work if she is pregnant. No long term work comes in, assuming that the woman in question will have to take a couple of years off from work.”
Pregnancy is not a speed breaker
She further added, “My dreams of building a thriving business depended on my ability to convince my clients that pregnancy is not something that needs to be a speed breaker – it could be an accelerator as well. First, I did meticulous planning on each project showcasing it to the client to convince them that we were on solid ground. Second, building a team that could take care of things if required was of paramount importance (since pregnancies can be unpredictable). Also, establishing and introducing my team as people who could handle everything was critical in the convincing process. The idea was to make sure we made ourselves indispensable so that the work kept flowing in. The actual announcement of pregnancy was not really important as long as the output was of consistent good quality.”
I worked throughout the pregnancy and was back to work a week post the delivery: Monalisa
“Being an entrepreneur afforded me the luxury to work from home for the first 3-4 months. But the overall mantra of meticulous planning and delegating to a trusted team helped me in making sure that we had all avenues covered,” she added.
But is the scenario that bad?
Inc. and Fast Company had a survey done in 2018 on State of Women and Entrepreneurship, according to which:
About 63 percent of female founders have kids, and 13 percent of them plan to have more. Twenty percent of the ones who aren’t mothers intend to have kids.
According to a recent study by We Hub, women entrepreneurs, age group 25-35, has taken up entrepreneurship — several were young mothers who had dropped out of the workforce, or taken a break.
Just like Monalisa, Naiyya, too, is not an accidental entrepreneur and balancing an infant is a short-lived requirement. They too had a full-proof plan ahead in the game. When asked why does she think female founders have to struggle with this perception that if they’re pregnant or with infants, they’re going to be less committed to the start-up, Naiyya says, “For folks who did not know me well or perhaps our track record well enough, there was a distinct (albeit very politely) framed enquiry about ‘how I was managing’/ ‘how I intended to manage’ – questions a male founder would never have had to answer or experience.”
This maybe due to the perception that care-giving is still primarily a female responsibility and while pregnancy and breastfeeding are truly what only women can take on, the world at large needs to appreciate the increasing role that men play in care-giving behaviour: Naiyya Saggi
“Today in many families, it’s not just ‘her’ baby, it’s ‘our’ baby and by marginalising the role men play and magnifying the role women play, we are doing both a disservice,” she added.
Talking further about the perception, she said, “Apart from the partner’s role, there is also a perception that as a mother, there is little opportunity to leverage. The truth is that as working women, the role of help and support that you build around you at home is one that is critical to success. Much like a new venture, for your child, having the right care-giving team and building blocks in place ensure success.”
She added, “The last perception is one that a woman’s ambitions and aspirations for self are quelled post maternity. Apparently the sense of individual ambition is replaced by aspiration for the child and hence a drop in lack of commitment. Questioning a driven entrepreneur’s commitment levels based on her status of pregnancy/being a mom is by far one of the most short-sighted perceptions one can take of an individual’s potential. In fact if anything through pregnancy and now motherhood I find I now have a newfound strength to fight pretty much any challenge that comes my way.”
READ: Problems Women Entrepreneurs Face While Scaling Up
Breaking the myth
Shaili Chopra, founder of SheThePeople, says being in a space where she talks to many women entrepreneurs on a daily basis and from her own personal experience as well, she believes this perception is a reality. “Women founders often get asked about whether or not their lives are manageable by themselves, and whether or not they have enough support structures. Such questions are not put forth to men. Having said that, my personal journey was one where I became mom after I embarked upon the entrepreneurial journey. At the time when I was expecting my first child, I was setting up both my start-ups and also writing my first book.”
“I did get into conversations with most people about how would I manage and also how would I be able to strike the work-life balance,” she further added. So, how did she tackle the perception? “I went ahead and spoke as well as moderated full sessions while being fully pregnant. Also, I was very proactive in going and attending events as well as meetings. That not just helped me normalise what I have heard but also I think it normalised things for the other party as well,” she explained.
After they had congratulated me they had to be ready to hear what I had gone there for. Which for me meant business: Shaili Chopra
Naiyya, who had similar experiences, says, “After all, commitment levels can vary from individual to individual. To generalise lesser commitment based on a gender or a lifestyle without having a perspective of intrinsic motivation, situation at home and care-giving access and support possible, would be a mistake. In fact, given the years of prejudice we have seen our mothers face as well as the remnants we ourselves still face, probably makes my peers and I even more determined to succeed and re-define commitment.”
Breaking the norm, Vineeta Singh, co-founder of FabBag, said, “What will my board think? What will be the reaction from investors? What would my team do in terms of my commitment? You keep asking yourself such apprehensive questions. But from my experience, the dilemma was in my head only and my team couldn’t have been more supportive. There was a popular example of Katrina Lake, an American businesswoman and founder of Stitch Fix, who had an infant child while developing a business that she built from scratch. So, for me the women role models who had rocked both pregnancy and business at the same time before me helped me stand up. The start-up scene is now much evolved than five years back and we have many examples of women doing wonders despite having family responsibility. We need to follow the footsteps and learn, that’s it.”
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