When India passed a bill which made taking 6 months of maternity leave the norm, women in the corporate world rejoiced. But what of women founders who aren’t protected by an institutional framework, and who are at the very centre of the operations of their companies? Can they, and should they avail of the 6-month maternity leave framework? Recently at a conference, investor Sanjay Mehta boldly said that he would write off his investment if a startup founder took six months off for a baby.

We reached out to female founders to understand whether they find truth in his statement or find it completely unwarranted. We asked them about how they think entrepreneurs should deal with the tricky question of balancing baby and business.

Trust founders, business is their first priority

Kanika Tekriwal, founder of JetSetGo, happened to be on the panel with Mehta. She candidly tells SheThePeople.TV that nobody needs to tell a founder how to run her business.

“Founders know how to run their businesses and their businesses are their first priority. Founders run their businesses from hospital beds, gardens, boats and planes”

“I would leave it up to the founder to decide whether she needs 6 months or a year or 2 days. Founders know how to run their businesses and their businesses are their first priority. Founders run their businesses from hospital beds, gardens, boats and planes. A founder doesn’t need the government or investors or anyone else to tell her how many months she needs to take on or of. If the investor wants to write off his investment, then he probably doesn’t know enough about the founder and he needs to be written of!”

Startups are marathons, not sprints

Investors should have a longer term view of the business, says Chennai-based Shefalii Dadabhoy, founder of PhotoConcierge.

“If an investor has such a myopic view on the business, then he’s definitely not the right strategic partner because what’s 6 months in the long term life of a business? We all know businesses have their ups and downs and eventually one needs a partner who’s willing to ride the waves with you and not leave you sinking when the tides are high,” she tells SheThePeople.TV.

Aditi Avasthi, founder of education startup Embibe, agrees. She says that investors should realise that startups are not sprints, but marathons.

“A startup is also like a baby. No founder ever truly switches off. By this logic, when you get back from paternity / maternity leave, should your family think that you are no longer there and also cut their losses? Further, what if the startup founder is out of commission for an accident or an injury? Invest because you can trust the founder — man or woman, not constantly question short term choices. Startups are not sprints, they are marathons. And they are fuelled by visualising the destination, savouring the journey and constant stakeholder trust and communication.” 

Let’s accept childbirth as a fact of life

Sairee Chahal, founder of Sheroes, says that a company’s fate doesn’t depend on the founder’s maternity leave. 

“Mark Zuckerberg took two months of paternity leave, and no one questioned his commitment to his business. So, why must the rules be different for women founders? Personally, in my experience, women founders work twice as hard through pregnancy for fear of being discounted from the running. I know I did, when I was expecting my daughter Vera. I went into the hospital with my laptop and was back at work in a few weeks. So, no, I do not believe the fate of a company hangs due to the maternity leave taken by the founder. Child birth is part of the circle of life. Let’s just accept it as a fact of life, and that it in no way defines or hampers a woman’s business. “

A contrarian view

Arpita Ganesh, founder of women’s lingerie brand Buttercups, agrees with Mehta’s statement, though she admits she is yet to meet any founder who wants to take even two months off!

“If there is a competent co-founder, and if the company has reached a certain scale, where it is self sustainable, then yes. If not, it shows a sever lack of commitment..”

“As a founder, we are needed to guide the company every step of the way, so a founder taking 6 months off from the business would have a grave impact on the metrics and growth, unless she is/has a co-founder, in which case, it’s a personal choice.”

If there is a competent co-founder, and if the company has reached a certain scale, where it is self sustainable, then yes. If not, it shows a sever lack of commitment to the business on the entrepreneur’s side, which is obviously not a good sign for an investor.”

“However, in most cases, founders are too passionate about their businesses to be able to leave it to someone else for 6 months,” says Ganesh.

So female founders, what do you think?  How did you manage baby and business? Write in with your comments.

Also Read: The Woman Who Had to Hide her Pregnancy to Live Her Dream

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