For ambitious working women, the question of whether to have kids is a difficult one. Conventional wisdom says you can have either a career or a family, but you cannot have both. And when you decide (or default) to having a family you become, well, a liability to a company.
Becoming a parent, so they say, emotionally distracts you, holds you back, and weighs you down. Though motherhood may fill you with all-the-good-feels, it definitely does not help you start, run, and grow a business.
At least, that’s what the prevailing narrative around motherhood has told us. Today, a new legion of female founders is rising up to rewrite that narrative. And the result is reshaping how we perceive motherhood and business.
Especially if you run your own company like founders Sarah Lacy, Renee DiResta, and Sarah K. Peck. These women are among the many pioneers proving that having kids makes you a better business owner, not a worse one.
In her book, she argues that “the strongest, most lucrative, and most ambitious time of a woman’s career may easily be after she sees a plus sign on a pregnancy test.” A bold statement considering the conventional wisdom suggests that having a family makes women want to “slow down” and opt-out of the workforce (leading to the famed gender pay gap).
Lacy warns that the myth of the “biological imperative” is part of what’s maintaining these outdated notions of motherhood. When well-meaning friends say things like, “Oh man, everything’s about to change. Once that kid is born, you won’t want to do anything else,” it’s extremely damaging to ambitious women’s sense of self. Adding to their ever-increasing concerns about losing their drive and identity.
Lacy says this myth is not only destructive, it’s also demonstrably false.
She equated the experience of having kids to diffusing a bomb where there’s all this build up and tension and then…nothing happens. After she had kids, she says, was exactly the same, but better.
In an interview with Peter Kafka at ReCode, Lacy said:
“After I had kids I was better at everything. I was more confident. My voice as a writer was better. I could write quicker. I was more productive. I became more successful. The exact opposite of what I was told would happen happened.”
In another interview, Lacy explained that motherhood is a huge asset to business because you develop an internal core of what matters and doesn’t. It gives you something bigger than yourself to fight for, which comes in handy when it comes to negotiations. In fact, Lacy took her newborn with her while she was raising capital and secured a $2.5 million seed round. Not too shabby.
That was in the midst of a public scandal, an impending divorce, and an enormous about of financial and career uncertainty.
“Men would say to me, ‘I don’t know how you’re doing this with children’ and I’d say, ‘You don’t understand: the only reason I’m able to do do this because of my children.’”
If you browse Renée DiResta’s website, you have to search hard for anything that screams “mom.” Part of the power in DiResta’s message is that children aren’t the focal point of everything. She proves that you can be a female founder without having to be defined by your motherhood. But you can also be a founder without pretending you’re not a parent.
Renee is the Policy Lead at Data for Democracy, but when she got pregnant she was a Principal at VC fund O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and then co-founded Haven, a tech platform that’s transforming logistics.
For DiResta, becoming a mom came with a lot of physical limitations, specifically the ones that come with pregnancy. The experience taught her that you have to learn to accept the things you can’t change, but can still push through.
She didn’t want to slow down and, as a result, refused to regard her pregnancy as a handicap. She traveled around the world (including flying to China at 36 weeks), walked with clients despite her sciatica, and wrote her last book between feeding sessions after the birth of her second child.
She told Sarah K. Peck in an interview:
“It’s important for my kids to see my work, and to integrate them into that aspect of my life. When I was on maternity leave, my baby daughter came to breakfast meetups with me pretty regularly – she slept on my chest in the baby carrier. There would have been no way for me to go without her. I was pleasantly surprised that no one was bothered by a baby – the opposite, actually.”
Sarah K Peck is the founder and executive director of Startup Pregnant, a platform, community, and podcast that showcases stories of “creative leaders in entrepreneurship and parenting.”
For Peck, pregnancy was a demystifier for what mattered and what didn’t. “It was like I suddenly had a huge bullshit detector, and I was able to say no quickly and easily…Saying no well became a strength,” she told me via email.
For those of us who’ve grappled with how to respond to a well-meaning, “Wanna grab drinks?” email, we can relate. The art of saying no is a tough one to master, but Peck assures us that having kids makes it a no-brainer.
Time management was also no longer an “issue” after kids. It was simply a fact of life.
“I couldn’t promise my evening hours or weekends — I didn’t have them anymore. Being fiercely protective of my time and knowing that every minute had to count made me a stronger decision maker.”
Better at saying no, better at managing your time, and better at making decisions. This is the new motherhood narrative. And only some of the many reasons why having kids is good for business.
“Having limited time forces you to focus, it doesn’t make you weak. Also, if having oodles of time and energy were the magic recipe for entrepreneurship, I’d expect to see a lot more people with tons of time building companies.”
We agree, Sarah. We agree.
Margo is a former psychological researcher turned marketer who’s spent most of her career trying to understand what drives human behavior. Today she is the founder of The Arena, the first virtual coworking space for solopreneurs with online and virtual businesses.
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