I gave birth to my daughter while I was in a role that required a lot of travel. I was on the road most every week when I went back to work from maternity leave, with my baby at home. I was still breastfeeding, so I had to take my pump with me.
There was one time I was in an airport, trying to get home, and I needed to pump. There was nowhere I could do it in private. I looked and looked around the terminal, but nothing. I ended up in the bathroom, on the floor in a stall because that was as far as the cord would reach from the outlet.
This was such a demoralizing experience for me, and I felt like I was failing at everything. I couldn’t spend time with my daughter, I was scrambling to catch a flight, I had dozens of emails to respond to, and I was sitting on a filthy floor in a bathroom stall trying not to spill milk on the floor.
This kind of challenge would not have been an issue for a man running his own business — for obvious reasons. Women entrepreneurs, and moms especially, face more challenges and constraints than men. Often, they are driven to entrepreneurship by necessity. The Kauffman Foundation found that, among entrepreneur mothers, 1 in 4 reported being the sole provider in their household, and three in four said they contributed at least half of their household finances. For Black mothers, twenty-seven percent reported being sole providers.
As my kids have gotten older and my business has grown, I still continue to face tradeoffs between family and my business. I was traveling to speak at a private equity conference earlier this month, and my youngest got sick. A bad bug had been going around our house (not COVID, thankfully!) and my husband had already taken off a lot of work. He couldn’t take off any more. So after getting to the conference, I delivered my remarks, networked as fast as I could, made the connections I needed, and turned around to come home. I was there for about 24 hours.
We all face tradeoffs between work and family, but these are challenging decisions I wish were easier. Because this experience with the conference happened during Women’s History Month, I began thinking about what could be possible if we better supported female entrepreneurs and female employees. We need to think differently about how we are investing in our employees and the structures we are setting up for them, especially for low-wage and entry-level workers. I faced so many challenges as a new mother, and those challenges are magnified for people with less privilege and support than myself. I have worked closely with new mothers in a low-wage job (or two or three) and they often face impossible tradeoffs to provide for themselves and their families on the best days much less in an emergency situation.
We can implement changes to make things easier for mothers. Thirty states now do have laws supporting breastfeeding in the workplace, which has made a big difference in the lives of many mothers. Many airports now have lactation rooms for new mothers. We’re considering creating some kind of caretaking benefit at my company to offer emergency care services to all employees. This would not only benefit our female employees but all of our employees. Being a working parent is hard, and our society does not provide the supports it should.
I know CapEQ can do even more to support working mothers like me, and we are asking that question as a part of our journey to change how the world does business. But we are taking this societal challenge on as a single company, and I know that larger-scale changes are necessary. The scope of the problem may seem daunting, but we have to take it on to ensure mothers get the support they need.
We can start the path to that large-scale change, together. If you or your company has your own approach to supporting working moms and parents — please share it!