Years back I read Paul Graham’s How to Start a Startup essay, which includes this footnote:
One advantage startups have over established companies is that there are no discrimination laws about starting businesses. For example, I would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon. But you’re not allowed to ask prospective employees if they plan to have kids soon.
Which, well, OK, I’m not in the business of forcing Paul Graham to start businesses with people he doesn’t want to start businesses with. But it bugged me for the obvious reasons, not least because, well, you know, men have small children too sometimes. Thank goodness they don’t have to put any work into them. Phew. Lucky escape there, men. Better make sure we keep that labour division in place.
Anyway, in the last few days, Tara Brown wrote this, in response to a few posts by men about having kids and doing a startup.
I am 35 years old, I have an 8 month old child that I breastfeed full-time and I am doing a startup. Big deal. Who isn’t?
Many women start businesses after having a kid, usually because they want to stay home and have an income. This was what I wanted to do after I had Ripley. I decided I wanted to look after him exclusively for his first year and then get a job as a consultant or something where I could continue staying at home with him. My husband and I took off with Ripley to Singapore and France and during that time somehow I ended up a co-founder of Noot.
I have a 9 month old baby (breastfed a fair bit as it happens, although you should have seen him get stuck into ciabatta bread today), and… I’m not doing a startup. I wouldn’t have been a great business partner or core employee for a while after birth, because it made me sick. I wouldn’t be a great partner or employee right now either, in fact, because he brings home illnesses from daycare and so we’re sick and exhausted constantly. (Not that I’m keen to encourage Paul Graham to add to the people he won’t start businesses with, but my husband gets these too, funnily enough.) I did recover our main fileserver when he was 12 days old. Pro tip: if you have any suspicion your hard drive is failing, replace it prior to the birth of your baby. (But then, I had to do the same thing the other week. Pro tip: mobile 9 month olds get in the way of hard drive replacements more than 2 week olds. Wait, that wasn’t a tip. Sorry. Pro tip: don’t have hard drives that fail.) I work various part-time and casual things now to afford the daycare to finish my PhD.
But Tara Brown isn’t telling everyone’s story: she’s telling hers, and she acknowledges that she has some advantages:
Honestly, I never expected to write this blog post because I just figured this is what every other woman that is working and has a baby must do, not something to make a big deal out of. But when I saw that email from Jason Calacanis and Jason Roberts, I just had to speak up so that more women can tell these guys that what they are doing is not extraordinary by any means. I mean come on, Jason Calacanis is rich, his wife stays at home and they have a night nanny. Not exactly a tough situation. What’s tough is single mothers and fathers trying to raise their kids by themselves. Me and the “Jasons” have supportive spouses who are at home for big chunks of time.
So moms dads out there that are doing a startup, tell the world YOUR story. Please! I need to meet more of you for the support and inspiration.
Starting, running and managing businesses, especially small ones, has been women’s work for a long long time, and that means mothers have done it. Mothers have done it a lot. But at the same time, I’m not keen to uncritically contribute to a superwoman culture: get back behind the desk woman! Sickness, disability, parenting and family and education and money demands and life preferences, these all vary a lot more than
I would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children allows for. Sometimes women need to work with small children. Sometimes they need to not. Often it’s in between.
What’s your experience, if you’ve worked as a mother young children? If you’ve been an entrepreneur or business owner, do you think that that was uniformly harder than being an employee, or in some ways easier, or generally easier?