Earlier this year I was nominated for a Women in Business Award. Given that the organisation running the event was small and membership was geographically centred, I figured we’d have a fairly good chance at taking out at least our category.
That didn’t happen and that was okay (the alcohol was plentiful, the food was okay and the band was awesome) – but what did become clear very quickly was the attitude of the organisers and the winners.
You see, every single woman who got up to speak — whether presenting an award or receiving one — went on and on about mothers in business as though the word “mother” and “woman” were interchangeable.
In fact, the head of the sponsor organisation (a local newspaper) got up and said something along the lines of:
“I want to honour every woman in this room because these women not only run businesses — they also have to take care of the home and the children.”
Oh really? We have to?
Now, I’m Childless by Choice (a growing movement, particularly among Gen Ys) — meaning I physically could have children, but I choose not to. I won’t get into the Childless by Choice debate, because it’s long and complicated and has nothing to do with business (or at least shouldn’t), but suffice it to say that I cop a lot of flak for my decision.
So I don’t take it very well when the contribution of my life’s mission — my purpose through my business — is downplayed because I’ve made the decision not to have kids.
It’s taken me four months to sufficiently get over this to write about it, that’s how angry the entire situation made me.
I’ve spoken to friends who are in business and have kids and they often feel the same way. “It’s so condescending — like they’re patting you on the head and saying, ‘Who’s a clever girl then? You bred and started yourself a little business too! Well done!'”
Now, perhaps it sounds like sour grapes — but I’m not fussed about not winning.
What I am fussed about is the fact that at every step of the way in this process, my achievements as a female entrepreneur were downplayed because I don’t have children.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a parent and you’re in business, good for you! I just don’t see how it makes you more or less legitimate as an entrepreneur. Why should there be any kind of correlation between business ownership and reproduction?
I’ve never heard anyone say, “Wow! You’re a father and a business owner? That’s incredible!”
While it’s kind of tempting to make this a female vs male issue, guys, of course, have their own set of issues — the attitude towards men seems to be almost the opposite — as though they are less of a “real” entrepreneur if they work from home and take care of their kids.
So why in 2009 do these attitudes still exist? Despite our PC posturings, are we still heavily invested in traditional gender roles? What is it that makes us assume that the highest goal any woman has in life is to take care of her children and that no woman, anywhere, could possibly want anything different?
Leela Cosgrove is Managing Director of Business Writers Anonymous, focused on sales, marketing and business development. She is also a firewalker, has a black-belt in Tae Kwon Do, a penchant for tattoos, and enjoys bands such as Rammstein, Li Bach, Marilyn Manson, Pennywise and Bad Religion.