Mumpreneurs

After years of headlines about the success of the ‘mumpreneur’, even our old friend the Collins English Dictionary has accepted it as a real word. But guest blogger, Emma Wood, tells Still You why ‘mumpreneur’ will never pass her lips.   

Every time I hear the word ‘mumpreneur’ I cringe! Since its conception I’ve ignored the casual sexism in deference to the many admirable women who identify with this term. They are, without question, an inspiring lot. But I fear that this term is a Trojan horse that in fact undermines equality – purporting to praise women while really belittling them.

‘Mumpreneur’ is a cunning little fox of a word on so many levels. At first glance this duplicitous term is simply sexism re-packaged as if it were a compliment to women (Isn’t she marvellous doing everything herself? Isn’t she amazing the way she takes charge of the children and runs a business?), but ladies, we’re not fooled! Although, yes, undoubtedly these women are amazing, why are we still defining women by their marital or childrearing status rather than by their achievements?

Between fellow ‘mumpreneurs’ it’s more likely a harmless code that acts as shorthand for ‘I’ll hold my meetings within school hours if you do,’ or ‘if I don’t get back to you straight away it’s because my child is sick and I’m so sleep-starved I’ve forgotten how to type.’ However, outside of the mums’ club and let loose in the world at large it’s doing us more harm than good.

While it’s out there shamelessly distracting the nation with its audacious mumtastic headlines, it throws a shadow over the real issues facing mothers returning to work. We get so obsessed with how so-and-so managed to create an empire during nap-time (honestly, the mind boggles) that we’re not asking whether this was her only palatable option. Maybe she had a perfectly good job before children but didn’t return to it. Did she struggle to return to traditional employment and if so, why?

At the last count, Mumpreneurs UK said there were 300,000 mother-run businesses in this country, with more in the making. These are impressive figures. But the question that goes unasked is this: did 300,000 women find it easier to build a business from scratch than find a job or return to their old job, once they’d had a child? Launching and running a business is hard-graft. Being a mother is hard-graft. So if they were trying to return to traditional employment, it must be seriously hard to do.

The flip-side to these success stories is overlooked – the question of whether these women always had the desire to be entrepreneurs or whether this was the only option available to them because of a shortfall in decent family-friendly employment.

A recent study by the flexible-working champions Timewise estimated that on top of the 8 million who already work part-time, a whopping 8.7 million more would work flexibly if they had the opportunity. However, they also found that ‘the higher your level of skill and experience, the harder it becomes for a prospective candidate to find a flexible job. Less than a third (30 per cent) of respondents said that their organisation was ‘open’ to the idea of offering flexible working possibilities in managerial-level job vacancies, just 14 per cent said the same for director-level roles and 9 per cent for leadership roles.’

This is disappointing – particularly given recent improvements to employment laws and more discussion than ever happening around family-friendly working policies – but there appears to be a real dichotomy between what’s said (or written on paper) and what happens in reality. Timewise found that ‘while 9 in 10 employers are open to the idea of hiring a talented flexible worker, managers do not communicate this strongly enough, soon enough and in particular miss a key opportunity at the point when a role is advertised.’ In other words, it might be talked about in the echelons of management but by the time it reaches the shop floor the onus is still on the individual to push the subject at interview or on return to work and risk being turned down. 

Or, of course, there’s the option of seeking an alternative career path such as entrepreneurship to provide absolute control over working hours. And I fear with ‘mumpreneur’ dancing its jig in the limelight, the problems that pushed some women to start businesses remain in the shadows.

But that’s still not the full extent of this word’s treachery. Its backward nature is sure to rewind equality to the 1950’s, doubling our workload in its wake.  Call me selfish, but I’m in favour of sharing parental responsibility and the household chores with the other consenting adult who got me into this mess lifestyle. The term ‘mumpreneur’ peddles the perception that childcare and the home are the primary responsibility of the mother, whether she works or not – or more to the point, whether she runs an empire herself, or not. It’s similar to that other headline-loving term ‘having it all,’ in that it’s another way of saying ‘doing it all.’ And actually, I quite like having time off thank you very much.

I’m not convinced it’s a fair reflection of modern day fatherhood either. A study published this week by Bright Horizons flagged that: ‘fathers, particularly young fathers, are more resentful towards their employers about their work-life balance.’ So it seems fathers do want in on the action. So I can’t help but think we’d be better off ditching terms such as ‘mumpreneur’ and drawing fathers into the debate instead – we might convince companies to take more meaningful action than just writing policies.

On a more practical note, ‘mumpreneur’ is way WAY too much of a hot potato for our etiquette-conscious nation to handle. What does one do when a well-known female entrepreneur starts a family? On the eve of the birth of her first child do we shamefacedly replace all entrepreneurial references with ‘mumpreneur?’ And, once the children have flown the nest are our high-flyers now not ‘mumpreneurs’? Does she end up a ‘grannypreneur’ once her children have kids? This could get us into all kinds of awful foot-in-mouth trouble. I’d feel better if we stuck with entrepreneur – it’s an inclusive, positive word and if it ain’t broke, let’s not fix it.

But in the end, ‘mumpreneur’ is too bewitching to be omitted from our headlines and the systemic changes we need to balance work and family life may be too long coming. Instead, this trailblazing breed of entrepreneur will have to show us what it takes to build a business that makes working life compatible with family life. These women are already forcing change bit by bit as they progress from sole traders to – yes you guessed it – employers! So, maybe they will be leading from the front again and teaching us how to keep productive employees on the payroll even after they’ve given birth.

And for that I think they are deserving of the respect and gravitas that the proper term ‘entrepreneur’ provides don’t you?

22 comments on “Stop calling businesswomen ‘Mumpreneurs’!”

  1. Hi Emma – this post has really stopped me in my tracks and forced me to think about the term. I am what some people would call a mumpreneur… and though I am not personally offended by it (it takes a lot to offend me!) you raise some really interesting points… I definitely would prefer to be referred to as an entrepreneur. Having it all SO DOES mean doing it all – people think being self-employed as a mum is perfection as you can dictate hours and so on, but it’s also really hard, nay, impossible, to find balance… I reckon though that I would be an entrepreneur even if I wasn’t a mum as it’s in my bones, so for me I wasn’t forced into it through a lack of choices – but there definitely isn’t that much great choice out there for part time roles… Anyway I’m gibbering as I have a 2 year old sat on the desk next to me who is throwing paper everywhere – this is the reality of being a mumpreneur!! A thought provoking post! X

  2. What an interesting post, Emma! You have certainly made me think twice about that term and I will never be using it after reading this article! I am not a mumpreneur but a stay-at-home-mum. I also hate this phrase – not because it is derogatory or sexist but because when someone asks me what I do, I often feel I have to explain why I have chosen to “just” stay at home. As women, we shouldn’t have to explain any of our choices. As Germaine Greer points out in “The Whole Woman”, the feminist movement shouldn’t be aiming for women to gain equality even! Why are we striving to be *equal* to men? we should be striving for all women to be happy to do traditional female jobs just as much as traditional “male” jobs. We should feel confident and proud to be stay-at-home-mums or entrepreneurs, or both, and everyone should respect that! I am totally in awe of anyone who manages both as I know I could never achieve it. Thanks for your thought-provoking piece.

    • Glad it interested you, Marianne. And I agree with you about the term stay-at-home-mum too. It absolutely does NOT sum up what a SAHM does – anyone who has ever tried to keep an active toddler ‘at home’ for 24 hours straight knows that! I also agree that we shouldn’t have to justify our choices. Nor should the choice of one women (be it working full time, or ‘staying at home’) be considered a criticism of the alternate choice, as some media likes to depict. It’s personal choice – plain and simple.

  3. Hi Emma,

    Love the article. Totally agree with the term, I think you hit the nail right on the head. I have a child and people don’t call me a Dadpreneur. Can I get my own word in the dictionary please?

    While we’re at it can I get working-dad in there too?

    Mike

    • Hi Mike, if I was in charge of the dictionary I’d be putting a whole lot of new words in there too!

      It’s a good point on ‘working-dad.’ The Bright Horizon survey referred to in this article highlighted that modern day fathers play (or want to play) a much bigger role in family life but are hindered by the same work issues as mothers. We need to remember this!

      I’ll be back in touch once I’ve solicited control of the dictionary – we can organise that re-write..

      Emma

  4. Yes, I hate that word too. I agree with what you say. A woman should not be defined in a business sense by whether nor not she has children. Men aren’t! It’s the same at red carpet events and Hollywood interviews. Female celebs get asked how they balance their work and family, but men never do.

    • Very true, Cardiff Mummy. It’s almost always the first question isn’t it?! So infuriating.

      It doesn’t seem very fair to either men or women. The insinuation being that men don’t value their family as much as women AND that women are confined to the primary caregiver role.

      Also drives me potty that female celebs are asked ALL the time whether they plan to have children (whether single or not) and men aren’t. That’s enough to make anyone want to scream.

      Emma

  5. Entrepreneur is so much better than mumpreneur. It is an all inclusive word that encapsulates the originality, imagination and ability of individuals with a good idea to create work, so why ditch it when describing a young woman with children who is starting a business? She deserves the equality of ‘entrepreneur’ just like everyone else does.

    Well done Emma for pointing this out and bringing the subject into discussion.

  6. It’s amazing how male entrepreneurs have managed to have children without it being their defining identity. When man are called dadpreneurs I won’t think it’s sexist word.

  7. I think this is a really interesting take on the term, however I do see it as a level up from ‘just’ being an entrepreneur. It takes courage, bravely and heart to be a entrepreneur, it takes a whole lot more to do all this while having children, and this, in my opinion should be recognised and celebrated.

    • Hi Mommy Bear,

      I do absolutely agree with you on your point about how much effort and confidence it takes. As Rachel says in her post above it is HARD work juggling both and she takes no offence from the term.

      My concern is whether there’s a difference in how we perceive the term in our dealings with each other (i.e. in a very positive way because we know first-hand how much guts it takes) and how it’s perceived by the outside world. I wouldn’t like us to be at any kind of disadvantage because of a label.

      As for celebrating women launching businesses whilst also bringing up children, there is nothing which would keep me away from that party!

      Thank you so much for your comments Mommy Bear.

      Emma

  8. An interesting article, and I agreed with many of your points. However, as an alternate view, I started a business at the tail end of my maternity leave not because my employer was not obstructive towards my new work/parent life (I was fortunate to have an easy-going employer who was keen to have my skills back at their disposal). I was edged into self-employment as the NHS was unhappy that I should – shock horror – be working AND be the mother of a child who needed additional input. Mumpreneur is an ugly and clumsy word, but it does sum up the ugly and clumsy choices many of us end up making. So, while I would never call myself one, the word does serve to flag up the difficult choices some mothers need to make and has led you to write an interesting blog flagging up some of those issues.

  9. A really interesting article, I have never given the term much thought, it seems at first glance a congratulatory term, but as you point out it has so many levels which pigeon hole the women it refers to!

    Great article,it started a very interesting discussion, thanks Emma

  10. Very interesting and thought-provoking, but I’m not convinced. I’m not a fan of the term, but I think it exists because it is a phenomenon that is worth remarking on. I started a business while raising babies, and know quite a few other women who did the same. But I don’t think many of us did so because it was *so* difficult (emotionally or logistically) to return to the conventional workplace. I always had this ambition to be my own boss and to create something awesome, and I had ideas festering for years but little time (or bravery!) to do anything about it. Having a baby and being on maternity leave gave me time and mental space to give it a go (in a “nothing lost” kind of way, as I could just go back to the day job at the end of ML if it didn’t work out). As long as my breasts were available, I could do what I wanted for a year with no shame or failure if I went back to work because if the venture didn’t work out I could blame the babies and not even tell my employer I had dabbled in something else. And I had a small income to tide me over and something to occupy my mind that wasn’t baby-related. It’s a pretty ideal opportunity for someone and maybe if men had similarly socially-acceptable “sabbaticals”, maybe we would have a term for their sabbatical-birthed business ventures.

    • I agree Sarah that being on Mat Leave is often a time for reflection career wise and gives women that time (in between being exhausted, feeding, wiping bums etc) to think about doing something else. As you also need to figure out how you are going to balance your career needs with your family’s needs. That’s what happened to me, and loads of other mums who have started businesses I think… What’s great is that this post has definitely opened a discussion up though! X

    • Hi Sarah, thanks very much for your comment. That’s very interesting. I think there’s a massive diversity of experiences out there. For many women, having children really can undo years of hard work and getting back on the career ladder can be just as difficult as Emma says in her post. (I was invited to go back to work in a more junior role than I had been in after I had my first child. No-one seemed to understand why I said no…) But I also agree with you that for some other women (also possibly me included) that space out of employment shakes you up and gives you the confidence (as you say in a “nothing lost” way) to think bigger and bolder and to try to do things differently. I’m planning to write an article about women for whom motherhood has taken their career up a gear, not down – would you mind if I contacted you about it to find out more about your story?
      All the best – and thanks again for commenting,
      Charlotte

  11. Brilliant post. Thank you for raising the point…the term has bugged me for years! The thing about Mumpreneurs is that is conjures up images of women starting up small companies from their cosy kitchen tables..the cliches being giftware, interiors, kids clothes etc. What if a woman started up a haulage company or a created an amazing piece of software, or ran a car dealership – Mumpreneur doesn’t sound quite right does it?
    http://www.westvillagewanderer.com

  12. Great post Emma! The media have always taken an interest in our business because we chose to take it onto Dragons Den years ago, but they relentlessly prefer to only feature the whole ‘invented it whilst being mummies’ angle rather than the fact that we now run a multinational business, and offer flexible employment at a senior level for a number of high flying women (who choose to work from home around other commitments – sometimes kids, sometimes other things). Whilst I can’t complain about getting media coverage as of course it is always good publicity for our brand – Cuddledry – I do wish just sometimes they would like to chat to us about the things we really have to focus on these days, such as how to manage operating in multiple international markets and dealing with changing market forces in each of those! Some like Woman’s Hour have done just that, and allowed us to share our learnings, but others do just still want to pigeon hole us. Of course we are mums in business, and our business was inspired by having children, but we are entrepreneurs, and I agree that is the term I would like to be used instead.

  13. Fantastic post, I really enjoyed reading it. The term ‘mumpreneur’ is as you quite rightly described it ‘a hot potato and one which I personally have mixed feelings about.

    The term ‘mumpreneur’ is used to describe a multitude of very different situations. As I see it, a woman was already running a business and then has a child, she does not automatically become a mumpreneur. A woman who has a child and then puts that child into childcare full time so that she can set up and run a a business is not, in my mind, a mumpreneur. However, the mum who sets up a business around her family and fits her work in to pockets of time around her children is, to me, a mumpreneur.

    This group of ladies face a very specific set of challenges around the type of business they can feasibly run given their circumstances, how they make best use of their very limited time and how they grow a business when they are in all probably very geographically constrained.

    Being able to identify with the term ‘mumpreneur’ allows these ladies an opportunity to identify other mums in business who are facing similar issues and provides an avenue for networking and support. This is where I find the term to be extremely useful – love it or loathe it, used in this context it allows woman to identify with each other.

    However, I do not think the term mumpreneur should ever, ever be used in the context of dealing with customers and clients. Whether you are fitting your business around your family or not is of no concern of your customers or clients. They are paying you for a product or service and that is where your focus should be.

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