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Lessons From the Question: “Can You Be a Good Mom and Entrepreneur?”

Lessons From the Question: “Can You Be a Good Mom and Entrepreneur?”

As the founder and face of Pipeline, I have a number of speaking engagements (on average, three per month), some of which include a Q&A period. If I’ve mentioned I’m a Mom during the speaking engagement, I almost always get the question, “How are you a good Mom and entrepreneur?” Sometimes it’s “CEO” or “executive” instead of “entrepreneur”, but the question is the fundamentally the same: “How could you possibly be a good Mom and work that hard?”

It’s a derivation of the (sexist) question, “Can women have it all?”

We rarely ask that question of men because we assume that their wives are taking care of their children. On February 11, 2007, when then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President of the United States, his daughters were ages 5 and 8. I don’t recall anyone asking him how he was a good father and a good presidential candidate (or senator), likely because they assumed Michelle was taking care of their girls.

The question is rife with misconceptions, starting with the fact that once you become a mother, it’s assumed you are not as committed to your career and you are mommy tracked, as reported in the New York Times (despite the reality that, according to a study by the Federal Reserve, working mothers are the most productive employees over the course of their careers).

In addition to the barriers you’ll face in your upward mobility when you become a Mom, you’ll also face a 4 percent per-child pay penalty based on a study from the American Sociological Review. If you decide to launch your own company, and want it to be scalable and raise capital, you’ll now face an uphill battle as a woman and as a mother (research from the Kauffman Foundation).

[Related: Female-Founded Brands: How to Put Your Best Foot Forward]

Mother-Entrepreneurs: A Perfect Storm

Here’s the reality: Being a woman in the workforce is an experience fraught with headwinds. Being a female entrepreneur increases those headwinds ten times over. Layer in being a Mom and you're now facing a Category 5 hurricane.

Women are the breadwinners in 40 percent of households in the U.S. with children under the age of 18. On average, working mothers earn 76 cents on the dollar — 4 cents lower than women overall and 24 cents lower than all families. Breadwinner Moms are the norm. Why aren’t we treating them as such?

Female entrepreneurs face a heavy uphill climb. Including both female-founded and female and male co-founded startups, female entrepreneurs received 14.2 percent of venture capital funding in 2017 according to PitchBook. Conversely, 17 percent of startups have a female founder. That’s a 2.8-point gap. The gap between the largest rounds raised by a male-led startup in 2017 was 18 times that of a female-led startup (they were both Series G rounds) —18 times! Meanwhile, investors state that female founders are receiving the right amount of funding to grow their businesses, while at the same time capitalizing them at 80 percent less than businesses overall (based on research from Morgan Stanley).

In addition, female entrepreneurs are asked prevention questions that focus on preventing potential losses and, behind closed doors, venture capitalists minimize the capabilities of female entrepreneurs. As well, according to a report from Illuminate Ventures, investors viewed women as lacking the top success attributes for building a venture-backed business. It’s not surprising, then, that we see the vast difference in funding (which, through an economic lens, is minimizing the returns to venture capitalists and their limited partners).

According to research shared in an Entrepreneur article, the average entrepreneur is a white male in his 30s. Mother entrepreneurs break with this norm (research from 99Designs’ Mompreneur Survey:

  • 57 percent are 40 or older
  • 79 percent are married
  • 95 percent have a partner who brings home income
  • 71 percent are the primary caregiver for their children

In other words, mother entrepreneurs do not, on average, fit the pattern of what venture capitalists think of as successful entrepreneurs.

That pattern is changing (based on research that Melinda Gates shared in an article for Quartz). Venture capitalists risk missing the next wave of capital returns if they don’t change their thinking.

So, how do we break old patterns?

An Action Plan for Supporting Female Entrepreneurs

When it comes to supporting female entrepreneurs, gender diversity brings better results. Here's how we can make it happen.

[Related: Five Steps for Building Diversity Awareness – Even if You’re Not a Manager]

Limited Partners (LPs), take your rightful place

In the world of venture capital, limited partners (LPs) sit atop the hierarchy and have a huge role to play in changing the landscape of who gets funded, as Melinda Gates has demonstrated. LPs need to use their power and wield it for good. Perhaps they should have a pledge similar to Founders for Change, in which startup founders commit to only taking investment from diverse investment teams. LPs should commit to funding only ventures capitalists who fund diverse entrepreneurs (as demonstrated through their current portfolio) and have at least 40 percent female venture partners.

Increase the number of female venture partners

Currently, according to All Raise, women make-up only 9 percent of female venture partners (and 74 percent of U.S. venture firms do not have any female partners at all). Here’s why that matters: based on research published in Harvard Business Review, aving female partners improves the chances of success for the female-led startups. In this instance, success is defined as a successful exit (a liquidity event) where venture capitalists and other investors realize a return on their investment in the startup.

Bust your bias

Much like pledge organizations such as CEO Action and Paradigm for Parity require their signatories to take specific actions to increase gender equity and bust bias, we need venture-capital firms to commit to taking specific actions to overcome the bias in the capital raising process that women face. In making the pledge and following up with action, venture capitalists not only do the right thing, they can also expand the projected returns for their LPs (according to Morgan Stanley to the tune of $4.4T).

Mothers are equally valuable as parents and entrepreneurs. When I answer the question, “How are you a good Mom and an entrepreneur?”, my answer is always the same: “We need to redefine what it means to be a good Mom.”

Perhaps we also need to redefine what makes a good entrepreneur. Good entrepreneurs come in all genders and ages. The world is changing and returns are being left on the table. Let’s step up.

[Related: How My Dad Taught Me to Fight for Equal Pay]

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.