I recently had a conversation with a few girlfriends on the topic of “having it all.” It went something like this, and is probably similar to the ones you’ve had with your own girlfriends:
“When I’m not with my kids, I feel like I’m failing at parenting and when I’m with them, I feel like I’m failing at my career.”
“I wish I could work on a schedule that works for me and my family.”
“I gave up on trying to climb the corporate ladder because I wanted to be around for my family and I couldn’t do both.”
That conversation got me thinking about all sorts of deep topics about what it really means to have it all and why it matters, the challenges working women face, and what work should look like for women. Here’s what I came to:
As women and mothers, our family is and always will be our number one priority, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have our own dreams and aspirations to keep learning, challenging ourselves, and to make a difference. But, we need something better than the two options society has given us: staying at home or working.
And, for those who work, we need something better than career-killing moves like reduced work schedules where you work the same amount of work but get paid for half, or flex schedules, which means you’re either about to get passed up for a promotion (again) or you’re leaving an hour early every day only to put in 3 more hours every night.
I believe we are about to embark on the next business revolution, one that isn't driven by machinery or technology, but by women starting their own businesses and the impacts of such a movement will be far-reaching.
It's no accident that there is a mass migration of women moving from employee to business owner. Here's why:
Reason #1 why more women are starting their own businesses: America is failing its women.
In this day and age, more women graduate college and enter enter the workforce than men. Yet, women account for less than 15% of executives in the c-suite, get paid 77 cents to the dollar of their male counterparts, and at the current rate of progress, it will take 100 years for women to reach the same gender equality in the c-suite. In short, women are not advancing, even though research indicates that companies with women in leadership roles perform better than those without.
And, we should talk about and teach our girls to lean in, help them build confidence, and educate bravery over perfection, but it’s kind of hard to do that when the cards are stacked against us in the form of governmental policies and cultural nuances steeped in history.
Paid-leave policies and childcare options
Yes, a lot of women don’t return to the workforce after they have kids and that’s part of the problem. While some are fortunate enough to choose between working and not working, there’s a significant percentage of women who don’t go back to work because they can’t afford to and that latter group probably touches more people than you realize.
First, we are one of a few countries that don’t offer a paid leave policy resulting in only 12% of the US population receiving paid parental leave (5% for lower income workers). Even as I was researching this topic, I was thinking how fortunate I was that my former employer was so generous in their maternity leave policy, but then I realized that I shouldn’t have to feel lucky for something that is a standard policy in all other industrialized countries and that has proven benefits to our own health, society, and the economy.
Researchers studying California’s state family leave program, which has been in effect for about a decade, found that paid leave policies decrease the chances of postpartum depression, help close the gap between lower and middle income families, and increase the chances of women staying in the workforce.
Second, there aren’t many affordable childcare options that work for a modern mother. For example, most childcare facilities are open during a standard workday (8-6), but in this day and age, there is no standard workday. Even with a pretty routine schedule, I feel like I am constantly juggling my work schedule with my childcare schedule with my train schedule. It baffles me how moms who work nonstandard hours - shifts, nights, weekends, and holidays - manage their childcare.
And, then there’s the cost. The cost of childcare is ridiculously crazy and it’s completely out-of-reach for the majority of Americans. With day care costs continuing to increase and wages staying relatively flat, many women can’t afford to keep working, which is kind of ironic since the whole point of child care is to allow mothers to remain employed.
According to babycenter.com, the average annual cost of infant or toddler day care in the U.S. is close to $12,000 and is significantly higher in metropolitan cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Specifically, in Illinois, the average annual cost of childcare for a dual income household with two kids is approximately $22,500 - about 25% of the average income. For a single parent, that percentage skyrockets up to 94% of their income.
So, what happens to women who exit the workforce because it didn’t make financial sense for them to stay in? They drain their savings, go on public assistance, re-enter the market with a job that pays less than when they left, come back to work before fully recovering, and rely on sub-par childcare arrangements.
C'mon, don't we deserve better than this?
What about the women that do stay in the workforce? Why aren’t they advancing? Two words: gender bias. Why gender bias even exists is a post for another day, but if you’ve ever worked in a traditionally male-dominated field, you’ve experienced it. Not being able to get a word in at meetings, male counterparts repeating your idea as their own, being asked to do the more administrative tasks of a project, or being mansplained to.
I once asked a male colleague why he felt women weren't advancing and he actually told me that it was because women don't want the more senior-level positions. Seriously?
While there has been progress, the pace of change is so slow that my two-year-old daughter can expect to receive equal pay when she is 51 years old. It’s why companies like Etsy, Facebook, and Intel still make headlines for offering more innovative benefits like six months of gender-neutral parental leave, equal paid time off, or for paying it’s male and female employees equally. Pssst - 90% of workers actually don’t take advantage of the generous parental leave benefits in fear of being penalized.
Unless the working world can get its act together and quickly, women are going to find a different path that not only provides them with the flexibility they need to maintain a family, career, marriage, and household, but one that provides a better way of life. In fact, with women-owned businesses up 68% since 1997 (1.5 times the national average), I would argue many of them may have already found it.
Reason #2 why women are starting their own businesses: It's cheaper than ever before to start up a business.
The internet has created a global marketplace with few barriers to entry, so starting a business is easier and cheaper than ever. Not only can you get a business up and running with a few thousand dollars (or less), but you can start it, manage it, market it, and service your customers all online.
For example, it took less than $1,000, a few cloud-based software tools, and a couple of weeks to officially become Keyword Marketing. We completed and submitted our paperwork through LegalZoom, used RocketLawyer to create a partnership agreement, set up an account with Quickbooks to help us manage revenue and expenses, and created a landing page using Squarespace. After that, we were pretty much up and running.
With technology, it's easier than ever before (and more accepted) to work with partners and clients without face-to-face interaction.
For example, Maggie works with clients in Illinois that she’s never met in person, we work with a designer who we met on Facebook, but have never met in person, and we use a number of tools to help facilitate those conversations like FaceTime, Google Hangout, or FreeConferenceCall.com. Not to mention, we run our business from two different states. When we do get together, we have access to a number of co-working spaces like 1871, Grind, COCO, or the good old-fashioned local library.
And, with social media, we can now reach our prospects and customers without having to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on traditional marketing. Since we launched our website three weeks ago, we’ve reached more than 1,500 people through our own personal Facebook networks.
Reason #3 why women are starting their own businesses: There are more resources available to help women entrepreneurs.
I’ve been talking about the movement of women entrepreneurs as a future state, but the truth is, it’s already happening. Everywhere I look, women are creating and disrupting new markets, finding new ways to reach customers, and improving the world around them, and they are doing it on their terms. And, now the market is exploding with resources and communities that have been built specifically to help women entrepreneurs connect with one another along their journey (Vendeve and Ellevate are our personal faves).
So, what does this all mean for the us, society, the world? Well, I think the impact of women-owned businesses is going to have far reaching effects:
Our lives are going to get better because of women-owned businesses.
Women-owned businesses are creating products and services that make our lives easier, better, and more fun. The Skimm has changed the way I consume news, StitchFix has changed the way I shop, and Ellevest is going to change the way I invest. That’s good for us and it’s good for the economy.
We're going to have better working environments.
As these businesses grow, not only will they create new policies that will actually work for women, but they’ll force the issue with the more traditional companies who have been slow to evolve.
Having it all will mean having a choice.
We’ll be able to pursue a different career path that gives us choices and opportunities to do something meaningful, live a life, and make some cash - on our terms.
And, the best thing of all? We'll finally be able to retire that terrible and overused phrase of "having it all."
This article previously appeared on Keyword Marketing via Ellevate Network.
Nadine Pizarro is the Co-Founder of Keyword Marketing, which inspires creators, builders, and self-starters to bring their company to life. They help businesses develop their identity, share their personality with the world, and connect with their customers through community-based learning, expert guides and workshops, and personalized consulting.
Fairygodboss is committed to improving the workplace and lives of women.
Join us by reviewing your employer!