Being a Woman Entrepreneur is Tough!
But that doesn't stop them!
By Nahal Sheikh
With a growing number of women taking up entrepreneurship, owning a business is no longer only a man’s domain. Female access and activity in business paints a hopeful picture. In fact - according to a report by the Women Business Owner Statistics, over 11.6 million U.S firms are owned by women. These numbers represent a global shift in notions of women in business.
A UNU-WIDER’s study found high rates of female entrepreneurship in developing countries too, although rates may vary between countries. One example is Peru, one of the world’s poorest countries, where the rate of female entrepreneurs now stands at 35 percent. Yet, pertinent challenges remain despite these shifting statistics, exemplifying the need for continuing support for women. It is imperative that women continue to be supported in their capacity to enterprise through education. This will in turn alter how women view themselves, and how the entrepreneurial world views them.
Double Burden and Society
Arlie Horschild (1989) wrote a book called, The Second Shift, in which she explains the concept of the ‘double burden’. Although Horschild coined a name for this concept in the 80’s, it existed long before and still affects women today. It refers to the dual “workload of people who work to earn money, but who are also responsible for significant amounts of unpaid domestic labour”. In couples where both partners work full-time, women spend significantly more time doing household chores and child care than men. This may include cooking, cleaning, and dropping off children at school. This is not a cultural anomaly, but rather a product of traditional gender roles that have become institutionalized over time.
As women have increasingly entered the workforce, many continue to be held responsible for domestic tasks, while also taking on the responsibility of paid work outside the house. One of the determining factors behind such gendered roles is that paid labor or work outside the home is perceived as more valuable than domestic work; work that has traditionally been undertaken by men. Although women in cultures around the world have participated in paid labour for generations, they continue to be held responsible for the domestic or house work.
Daily Dilemmas at Home and at Work
Women often do not achieve their full potential because they are unable to fully focus their attention on either their domestic work or paid work. This double burden may cause women to become stressed and overburdened. One example Horschild offers is Evan and Nancy, a heterosexual couple she studied. Both husband and wife went to their full-time jobs or “first shifts” at 8:00 in the morning, however, “Nancy’s talk reflects a series of second-shift thoughts: 'We’re out of barbeque sauce … Joey needs a Halloween costume … Joey needs a haircut … ' and so on.” Nancy had these thoughts more often than Evan.
These dilemmas are not limited to women of an earlier generation. Lori Schwartz, a legal advisor and founder of World of Schwartz - a tech platform, faces similar obstacles. She expresses her discomfort with juggling her work within the home and outside. “I began wrestling with tough questions that I had for myself: [...] What’s my value in the marketplace as I juggle motherhood? How can I be productive while making my life as a mom a top priority?” These are the types of questions women entrepreneurs are forced to answer more often than men.
Looking beyond the cases of Horschild’s study, women become distracted by issues at home more often than men. Thus, cultural traditions and taboos in many instances have been shown to place a heavier burden on women. Horschild’s work shows these distractions hinder women’s engagement with the public and private sphere. Addressing the degree of dedication required to succeed as both a female entrepreneur and a domestic worker needs to first and foremost, be acknowledged.
How to Face the Challenge
Many studies have identified the weight of the double burden on women’s ability to focus on both domestic and paid work. Bringing the issue to light in public discourse is crucial to challenging it. Such acknowledgement will help female entrepreneurs collectively generate strategies to tackle the issue. It has proven beneficial for many young women entrepreneurs to hear first-hand advice from successful women who have, at some point in their lives, tried to overcome the double burden.
What are Some Solutions for Overcoming the Double Burden?
Find your Balance
Sophia Lemon, owner of Photography for Ridiculously Happy People, emphasizes defining the work-life balance that is right for you. Although following success stories of other women entrepreneurs is significant, no two people lead the same life. She explains, it is important to decide how much time can be put into paid work, domestic work, and time alone. For Sophia, it was most important to balance “business, family and friend time, health and wellbeing, and alone time. When these things are in balance, then you’ll find me kicking butt in life and business.”
Become Part of a Support Group
Laura Miller, president of Ink from Chase, explains how a reliable and strong support system is necessary for young women entrepreneurs. Women need to find communities and mentors who can give genuine professional advice. “Professionals can ...provide a great sounding board for new ideas, frustrations and genuine dilemmas.” Websites abound that can inspire and guide women in business. In fact, this support system need not be limited to entrepreneur-related issues for women. A social support system is also vital - your family, friends, neighbors, anyone who can help out in busy times, can offer some necessary support and relief.
Involve your Children or Family
“My children are the driving force behind my business and come with me as much as possible - to radio interviews, pop-up shops, exhibitions and more. I share with them what I'm doing, and take their advice. It feels very natural to work this way.”
This can be beneficial to women business owners as well as their family, who through their involvement, gain a greater understanding of the various forms of work women may undertake - in the home and outside. Through watching and learning how the professional world works, the children of a woman entrepreneur can learn how the business world works, helping them glean valuable insight from a young age. This can also support girls to see their mothers as powerful role models, instilling confidence in their own ability to enterprise!
Being a woman entrepreneur isn’t always easy. The suggestions offered by experienced women underscore the existing possibilities for women to succeed both in their domestic and paid work, if they have the right support. In fact, this is true for just about any entrepreneur, regardless of their gender. Building a sustainable support system can offer valuable avenues for relief, guidance, and strength, in business and family life.
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 Hochschild, Arlie and Anne Machung. 1990. The Second Shift. Avon Books: New York.