Awhile back there were two articles about why there aren’t more women in startups. It is still widely discussed today, but for reference sake, I’m specifically referring to these posts on TechCrunch:
Followed by this post:
Two very polarizing views, from two talented women, about the same thing.
I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot since these two articles were published. Here is some context from which I have been thinking about it from. I have two daughters. I am on the Board and regularly attend events with the Women Tech Council. I take my daughters with me to business events often and do my best to expose them to entrepreneurship and startup life. My wife is a college graduate and was a talented senior marketing executive at a large medical firm. I have also admired and worked closely with a number of talented women over the years. I still do. So I’d like to think I care about this issue and have a vested interest in doing so.
Having read both of these posts (and others) and following some of the chatter on Twitter, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is something really missing from the discussion. Namely, the role parenting plays in all of this. I’m talking about married women with children, or married women who will have children, as I think they are a large percentage of whom these articles are referring to.
First let me say that I realize many women (or men for that matter) come from homes where, sadly, parents don’t play a role in any part of their lives, let alone their future professional careers. This is not the group I’m referring to. I’m talking about the kids and parents that have some level of connectivity that is meaningful. The families that try to really build a loving and cohesive household that truly is connected in every way. To those I ask this question:
If both parents work outside of the home, do you think your kids are better off then if one stayed home?
If you answer in the affirmative, I’m calling BS.
Your kids cannot and will not be better off with both parents working. Nope, can’t happen. Doesn’t happen. Won’t happen. So stop kidding yourself that it does. No one can do as good of a job as you when it comes to parenting. No one. There are so many things that happen with children during a work week that at least one parent should be there for. Taking kids to school, being there for them during the day, doing things with them, picking them up from school, hanging out with them, working with them in the home, chores — just plain old time being spent together! If both parents are working full time, that happens less and less. If a nanny or daycare is spending most of the daytime hours with your children, they (and you) are missing out.
Some will say that their house requires two incomes to survive. In some cases, this may very well be true. But I bet it is mostly not true — at least not permanently true. Changes in lifestyle, less things, less spending, less keeping up with the Jones’ could fix almost any dual income “need” over time. So spare me the “we have to do it”. No you do not. Simplify your life, cut back on your spending (a lot in some cases) and make significant financial sacrifices. Or don’t. But don’t use it as an excuse that you HAVE to have two incomes. I’m generally not buying that.
So where does that lead me in terms of the original discussion about more women in startups? I’m 100% for it. Absolutely, without a doubt for it. BUT, and this is a big but, only if the other parent DOESN’T work. So if you are a woman with children, and for whatever reason you want to start a business or join a business, I think you should absolutely do it! However, I think both you and your spouse are kidding yourselves and short changing your kids if one of you doesn’t work in the home.
Notice I have been using the word “work”. When my wife and I decided to have children, it was a 100% no-brainer for her to stay home. She would have nothing else. And I totally agreed. So we had no other plan or option there for us. We made the difficult financial decision of losing her substantial income when we had children. We made it work. We made sacrifices. I worked harder and thankfully (and luckily) we have been greatly blessed financially since that time. By no means am I saying this is how it is supposed to be for every family. It is not. I’m just telling you that we jointly made a definitive plan for her to be in the home full time once we had kids. It was tough! But over time we made it through and you can also, if you choose to.
As an aside let me say this — what she does is every bit as hard, if not harder, than anything I’ve done in a startup or otherwise. I’m not kidding, it is TOUGH! I’d never change places with her because I just flat out couldn’t do it. I am still very active with my kids — it’s not a license for me not to be a parent. I make every effort to be at all of their events, take them to school and so forth. So she isn’t alone in the parenting department. However, my wife takes care of business at home and I take care of business at work and I believe our kids will benefit from those (at times) difficult choices.
If you are a woman and want to start a business or join one, make the call with your spouse about what your kid plan is. If you do it, then make the necessary sacrifices for them to stay home and work there. If you don’t, your kids will get the short end of that decision. No, they won’t necessarily turn out to be unhappy, or bad people, or serial killers or the like. But they will miss out on a lot. There is no doubt in the long run that your kids will be better off with one of you there more often. Maybe that is you, maybe it isn’t. That decision is between you and your spouse. But it has to be a factor! This decision will be one of the most important you’ll ever make.
Choose wisely, because you can’t buy that decision back, no matter how much your startup makes.