CEO + Mom, It’s Not Either/Or 1

Last week, I was a speaker at the White House’s State of Women Summit. It was – as the name suggests – a massive gathering of 5,000 attendees (mostly women plus a few men) invited to discuss, well, the state of women. Everything from healthcare to equal pay to entrepreneurship to education and more. I was invited to be on two panels on entrepreneurship, one on the day of White House summit and one organized by the Small Business Administration the day before.

It was at the SBA summit that I was speaking with a few female startup founders, when one of them said a phrase that I hear far too often and makes me want to cringe. It was – and this is more a collective version of the many times I’ve heard it, as opposed to a verbatim of this exact woman – “Well, I’m growing and scaling my company right now. And then when we’re at the point where it’s better established, I’ll go and do the whole have kids thing.”

At which point, I had to jump in. Now, I am 100% for doing whatever a person wants to do as far as their own family vision. Have kids. Don’t have kids. Have them in 10 years. Have a surrogate deliver them for you. Adopt. Whatever you want to do. But when people say this – especially women – it isn’t about them sharing their family planning information with people who completely didn’t ask about it.

It’s basically saying, “It’s impossible to be a mother (or at least a good mother) and a successful startup founder.” Sometimes, it is blatantly passive aggressive – but most of the time, I (would like to) think it is completely unintentional. Instead, it’s an echoing of what so many women (and yet very few men) have been led to believe: That somehow growing a company and growing a family are mutually exclusive.

I pointed out then (as I always do) that they are not incompatible – which gets me the “Oh, of course, they’re not – but do we really believe this?” look.  A look that is quickly replaced by surprise when I say that, in addition to 7 Generation Games, I have three small children.

Maybe it was because of this conversation – or maybe it was just the fact that I have kids and a startup so the topic is often somewhere in my mind –  that after speaking the following day as part of the “How to One Up the Start Up: Successes in Growing Women-Owned Businesses,” I realized every single woman on my panel had – or in one case, was soon-ish to have – kids.

And considering that the group ranged from startups (hi, that’s me in the blue dress) to companies that have been acquired to huge enterprises doing billions in business, no one seemed to be the worse for having had children along the way. (I used italics there because an understatement font doesn’t yet exist.)

I thought I was hardcore because I only took four days off after having my baby before going into the insanity of rewrites for My Fight/Your Fight – but no, LearnVest’s Alexa Von Tobel literally like left the hospital for a couple hours the day after her baby was born because her company was in the middle of an acquisition. Nina Vaca of Pinnacle Group has four kids – putting my efforts to wrangle three children to shame. Lisa Price of Carol’s Daughter has had her beauty company acquired by an industry leader (which is also a typical route in edtech) AND she has three children who she has managed to get all out of diapers. (OK, so her youngest is older than my oldest, but seriously some days, it seems as though that day will never come – the end of diapers, that is; an acquisition I can totally picture.)

It’s a message that I think that female founders, especially those who – unlike myself – don’t just roll their eyes when people talk about the inability to both run a startup and have a family but actually believe that, need to see. And to be honest, it was reaffirming for me to see as well, because sometimes, it’s nice to be reminded that you’re not the only one out there.

Someday, I will have to do a post about how having kids has actually be a huge plus for me in the professional life – I don’t think I would be nearly as effective at running a startup if I didn’t have kids – but since we’ve got four games in various stages of development at the moment, I have to get back to that.

And hey, if you want to buy a great kid-tested game, check out Making Camp Premium – 55 educational activities for under two bucks. 

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One thought on “CEO + Mom, It’s Not Either/Or

  • Elaine

    Love the photos! I think there is brainwashing about women having to pick between business and family. Telling your side of things helps shed light on what I feel is a myth about women and careers.