I started August Society in 2015 after years of working for big corporations. I worked long hours, traveled to scout factories and suppliers, and didn’t have to think of anyone besides just my husband and myself. I voraciously read everything I could about digital marketing, growth hacking and product development. I lived the life of a founder – figuring out what the heck I was doing while at the same time strategising how to rapidly grow the business. Every ounce of my energy was committed to making this brand take off.
Fast forward a few years and two toddlers later; I’m suddenly an entrepreneur who also happens to be a mother. Does this make me a mompreneur? (or mumpreneur, depending on which part of the world you hail from?) Don’t get me wrong – I am happy with the way that I structure my time. My schedule is flexible enough that I can spend time with the little ankle biters whenever I want; I just work more on some days and less on others. I would never have this kind of freedom working for a bigger company. But as a solopreneur (ha, another catchphrase!), I’m the only doing the work in my company. All of the business strategy, daily operations, sales, marketing, logistics, customer service, product design and financial planning – that’s me. So does it really matter at all if I’m a mom, or not, when we talk about me in the context of my business?
When you label me or any other woman a “mompreneur”, a job that is actually exponentially larger suddenly becomes less than. It makes it sound like she’s a cute little housewife trying to sell cupcakes while the baby is napping. While a stay-at-home parent is the equivalent of 2.5 full time jobs, and a startup founder is a roller coaster, all-consuming lifestyle, the term mompreneur forcibly wedges two enormous, contradictory roles into one diminutive little box. She sounds like an amateur, running her business as a little side hobby while her main job is actually to take care of her family. You would never use the term “mumlawyer” or “mumdoctor” would you?
There are women who have decided to take the term mompreneur and embrace it. They have built their brands and businesses around the trustworthiness of being a mother and all that entails. I say – good on you, own it, and rock on! But this doesn’t necessarily apply to all of us, especially those of us who are not in the business of selling kids products or parenting advice.
When do you ever hear the term “dadpreneur” or “papapreneur” (that has a nice a ring to it, don’t you think? #callhimpapapreneur) A father who owns a business is called an entrepreneur, period. Imagine an interviewer referring to startup CEO as “a father of two who manages to juggle fatherhood with the demands of running a company.” It sounds ludicrous. So why do we do the same to women? It’s patronizing, and it denies a woman the freedom to have professional ambitions outside of her role as a mother. While we're at it, let's just go ahead and remove "ladyboss" and, my personal favourite, "SheEO" from our vocabularies as well, shall we?
In 2017, Singapore was ranked 8th in a list of global cities in their ability to attract and foster the growth of women-owned firms. Here, it’s possible to get help easily – the government offers subsidies to offset childcare costs, and domestic help is inexpensive compared to the rest of the developed world. The prevalence and ease of e-commerce and remote work makes it easy for many women to work flexibly from home. Never before has there been an easier time for women to start their own businesses.
But though we have made great strides when it comes to gender equality, a recent study has shown that women still take on the majority of the mental load in our households. I have help at home, heaps of it in fact. In Singapore we’re lucky enough to have a wonderful domestic helper who lives with us and does most of the housework, shopping, cooking and childcare. I’m already miles ahead of other parents who have to handle all of these responsibilities while also working full time. Though our helper is very independent, I’m still the one who has to tell her what to make for dinner, how to entertain the baby, and what to do around the house. I’m the one who makes sure our bathrooms have enough toilet paper, keeps track of the vaccination appointments, and buys the gifts for other kids’ birthday parties. This applies to a large percentage of moms, not just ones who have their own businesses. All this crap is rolling around in our heads all the damn time, and it’s exhausting.
But there’s something different - not better or worse, just different - about the psychological demands of an entrepreneur vs. someone working for a company. Entrepreneurs face a great deal of stress, and there exists a degree of personal identity and self worth that an entrepreneur ties to their companies. The mental health challenges faced by startup founders is well discussed. The mom guilt, which can be a whole topic in and of itself, still applies but then it hits twofold – when we’re working we feel guilty we’re not spending time with our babies; when we’re with our families, we worry about our businesses, which often also feel like our babies.
I’m not trying to turn this into a feminist tirade, and I will never try to make the case that all women do more housework than men. I’m sure there are many fathers out there who take on the brunt of the domestic load at home. In the end what I’m asking for is to refer to a woman based on the merits and context of what she’s doing – when talking about her and her company, call her an entrepreneur. When speaking about her role in relation to her kids, call her a mom. When speaking about her as a person, just use her name! But please stop using the word mompreneur because it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of being enough to describe what an entrepreneur, who also happens to be a mom, does every freakin' day.
Toni Chan, August Society Founder