There was not a shred of excitement or joy in her voice when she told me, "I'm pregnant." She’s the Founder & CEO of a start-up, and her message was enveloped in dread and anxiety.
I jumped up and shouted, "Congratulations! Can I hug you? How are you feeling?"
"What is the least amount of time you think I can take?" she asked me. "I was thinking, six weeks?"
My heart sank. At the time, I was transitioning back into the office following the birth of my second daughter, and was sensitive to her concerns. All entrepreneurs carry the weight of our organizations on our backs. We are never truly "off" despite how intentional we are with our time and how much we practice mindfulness in every interaction because at the end of the day we are ultimately responsible for the rise and fall of our companies, and that does not change whether we’re sick, on vacation, or set an out of office response to our emails. No one but a founder knows what it's like to watch cash flow, to be personally responsible for making payroll if your business cannot, to have dreams and aspirations that only you can push your organization to achieve.
The burden of being an entrepreneur with the responsibility of motherhood is more than most men would be capable of imagining -- not to mention the actual physical challenge of creating life while building a business -- and yet, men are the people most often responsible for investing or creating legislation. There isn’t much support for any woman who chooses to create life while working, let alone a founding entrepreneur. I became terribly sad that her greatest gift to the world felt like an insurmountable burden on her shoulders, a feeling I was familiar with.
Like many women, I hid both of my pregnancies beneath sheath dresses or a loose blouse and a blazer until it was unavoidable. I spoke at conferences, raised millions of dollars, and took our program to new heights all while pregnant. I hid it because I worried it would impact my company, that I wouldn't receive funding because investors might question my commitment to the company once becoming a mom.
Despite the fact that private technology companies led by women are more capital-efficient, achieving 35% higher ROI than companies run by men, or that women-founded companies in First Round Capital’s portfolio outperformed companies founded by men by 63%, women founders remain underfunded and under-supported. With the odds already stacked against us, why take the risk of giving someone an excuse to say no to your dreams of motherhood?
This dynamic can make female entrepreneurs, and many women in the workplace, hesitant to face the challenges of having an inspiring career while being a mom -- part of a much larger problem in the United States surrounding family leave. The fact that we expect a new mom to return to work while her own body is still processing the trauma of labor and delivery, not to mention feeding a new life, while functioning on pockets of sleep, is inhumane.
Sadly, reform around this issue isn’t completely within our control -- even if we have a voice on the subject in the upcoming election, the fact remains that most of our country’s policymakers are also men. In celebration of the International Day of the Girl, here are a few ways we can make the most of subpar policy and support female founders in the meantime:
Understand your personal financial situation. Calculate the cost of child care now and as your children age, as well as your potential earnings and savings as you grow your business. This will help you understand your personal downside and upside more clearly. Chances are, if you’re an entrepreneur, there’s a safer, higher paying job that might be more appealing with a new baby on the way. That’s natural, but if you understand your financial situation, goals, and the path toward those goals, you will feel more comfortable making big decisions.
Ask yourself what would make you, your child, and your partner happy? There is no research to show that children are better off if their mother stays home or works. Children are better off if their parents are happy and satisfied in their choices. What will bring both you and your partner joy and fulfillment so that you can show up as the best versions of yourselves for your children? You’ll want your children to chase after their dreams and make choices that will bring them happiness. You can start modeling that for them now.
Speak up - advocate for what you need, both with your partner, your board, and your colleagues. By staying silent, you give others permission to assume your needs are fulfilled. At the very least, speaking up opens a dialogue to discuss strategies, schedules, and policies that all parties are comfortable with and feel supported by.
Find allies who can help you be the kind of mom you want to be and the kind of leader you want to be at work. These could be mentors or more senior leaders within the company. These could be friends or family members who will help to hold you accountable and encourage you to make sometimes difficult decisions to stay on your chosen path. While it’s important to have diverse perspectives to challenge you to grow, it’s important to balance that with allies who know, understand, empathize with, and advocate for your wants and needs.
If you're an entrepreneur raising capital, be careful who you bring into your cap table. You want investors who are partners in all aspects of your life and value you as a human being alongside your ability to generate financial returns. When you bring the right people to the table, the conversations above become more natural and you can trust that you’re building an organization that will not only empower you to cultivate an integrated, fulfilling life, but will also inspire this integration in your team as well.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Nobody, not even our male counterparts, can do it all. Lean into your family, your community, and your friends for help. Don’t be afraid to pay someone and delegate the home, life or work tasks that allow you to be the most focused and high-impact version of yourself.
The fact is, women are worth investing in because they are generating more revenue, hiring more people, and opening more businesses than anyone else. Women are worth hiring because they create better company culture and increase overall retention. Women are worth following because they are effective, honest, resilient leaders.
As a mother of two girls, I understand why the data shows that women are increasingly outperforming their counterparts in the office. Since I’ve had children, I’ve been vigorously focused with a significantly greater sense of purpose. At work, I rarely spend time or pursue activities that aren’t 100% tied to our business goals and am discerning about potential distractions for myself and our strategic plan. Women have gone through so much to get to this point; we are determined to thrive.
It’s beyond time we recognize that women are the underpinning of society and unleash the power of mothers, rather than restrict it.