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Let's Shift The Narrative On Women In Business

22/12/2016 12:40 GMT | Updated 22/12/2016 12:40 GMT

So last year, I made a pretty crazy / bold (delete as appropriate) move. I quit my job, without a new role to go to, and decided I was going to set up my own PR business. I went against all the 'rules', as I set up without a bank of clients, or a huge black book of business contacts.

Yet despite the odds not being stacked in my favour, one year on, things couldn't be better. I've got some great clients and business is booming. However, I feel slightly conflicted. I'm married, I'd like a family at some point, and figuring out where that factors in with my current 'baby' isn't always easy.

With my ambitious hat on, I want a business that thrives even after my family grows. I'd love for my consultancy - HK Communications - to be a force to be reckoned with in the PR world. When I'm feeling less ambitious, I want a business that works around my lifestyle, rather than the other way round. However, I always feel like the latter is the soft option.

I don't think I'm alone on this. From what I've seen, this is an issue that affects most women in business, and it's something men don't have to contend with in the same way.

The media has always championed the woman in business, breaking glass ceilings and getting to the top of the career ladder. But there was never much regard for the stay-at-home mum, or the woman who had a part-time job or business that worked around other commitments.

Celebrities that 'snap back' into shape and get back to work as quick as a flash are applauded. The recent run of the Apprentice sends up the working woman further, as the female contestants who are willing to sacrifice everything to be Lord Sugar's business partner are lauded, while the contestant who missed her children is seen as the weak link.

This of course, transcends into society. Throughout my working career, I saw female directors receive praise for coming back to work full-time after maternity leave.

Having set up my own business, I am around many other business owners - both male and female - and it's fascinating to see the badge of honour attached to working long hours and putting your life on hold as you build your empire. I have often heard the term 'lifestyle business', which is used to refer to a business that works around someone's home and family life. However, this was often used in somewhat derogatory terms, as if it's a fun thing to do on the side that earns some pocket money.

And it is possibly this association for women in business, that it is 'all or nothing', and that your business becomes your 'baby', that contributes to the reason many companies set up by women have a higher churn rate. According to Prowess.org, a platform supporting women entrepreneurs, UK female-owned businesses have more start-ups and closures than those run by men. Tellingly, women are less likely to attribute closure to 'business failure' and more likely to cite 'personal reasons' - which peak at age 25-34.

This further cements the ideology that women have to choose between being in business or having a family, as one has to give.

But I do feel it's time for the narrative to change. Quite simply, despite all our protestation about gender imbalance and the like, women are different. And things do change once you start a family. Whereas it's business as usual for men after they become fathers (except the taking turns on the night shift, of course), for women, it's not so easy.

I have countless friends who have become mothers and felt slightly side-lined for going part time. And other female business owners, who set up shop with the aim of having some control over their work, left the entrepreneurial world after children as they felt they couldn't give their business their all.

But that's the point, you shouldn't have to give your business your all, unless of course you want to. There should be another definition of success. Female business owners who have a business that works around their life, whether that's building websites in the evening, or running a pop-up on the weekends, should receive the same applause as those who work all the hours to build a 30-strong team.

We need to coin another definition of success for women in business. A lifestyle business should not be sniffed at, and running a business and a home should be well regarded. After all, the latter is a job in itself.

As for me, I'm still slightly conflicted. But I think reshaping the conversation around women in business would help me, and other female business owners build businesses that truly work for them, and society.