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?