Last week, I had the pleasure of giving a keynote presentation at a meetup for 70 women in tech startups in Copenhagen. As usual, many concerns regarding the true barriers and sacrifices of entrepreneurship as a lone female (and a mother of young children) amongst all the cool tech guys were raised during the Q&A session that followed.
These issues, and how we handle them, are important to highlight, and I wanted to share some of the insights that were raised, as well as my answers.
1. How do you manage those long work days, traveling, and everything else while raising a family?
To me, this is actually not an entrepreneur question, it is a general career person question, for both men and women. The answer depends largely on your individual career baseline.
Before I co-founded Queue-it, I spent a good 15 years climbing the corporate ladder in large, global companies, and I can guarantee you that an executive position is no easier or worse than starting a company, as far as workload, stress, family coordination issues and so on are concerned. One difference, however, is that I am to a much greater extent in charge of which activities I decide to prioritize and when I want them to happen. This is actually a major advantage, compared to the alternative of a fully booked Outlook calendar managed by secretarial staff.
But how do I do it then, you may wonder? Well, in my case, I prioritize quite strictly what I spend my time on. Professionally and privately. So, I don't do any house cleaning, laundry and ironing. As in, ever. The price I pay for not having to channel my energies to tasks that do not bring me any joy or value whatsoever is clearly worth it. Other household tasks are split 50/50 with my husband. My suggestion would be to find a true partner in your life, who is willing to support you completely and take on a good amount of the daily tasks. Every hour I do not spend on meaningless tasks is an hour I can spend with my family or growing my company. For me, this reduces stress and increases focus. Other women may have other preferences as to how to organize this, but these are my choices.
The only really difficult part is having to spend time outside of our home for prolonged travel or late meetings, dinners, etc. Fortunately, my children are blessed with a wonderful father, who (again) takes his share of the responsibility in our marriage and usually enjoys doing so. As in many families, this division of responsibility was not given from day one; I had to argue my case, and fight some battles to combat the usual old-school pre-determined family patterns, but this is my responsibility as a mother, wife, and business owner. Along those lines, my husband also took 50% of parental leave after my children were born (which is extensive in Denmark), which was an important contribution to his relation with our children being very much comparable to mine. So the agony of spending time away from my family is mostly mine, as my children are usually fine with it while being surrounded by loving family members or friends.
2. How do you tackle sexism and gender bias when dealing with investors and other male-dominated business connections?
I am actually blessed with a great deal of naivety, which helps a lot. This may sound strange, but not registering every potential signal of sexism and gender bias (and consciously ignoring quite a few) means that most of the possible conflicts and concerns about this go unnoticed by me. I do understand, however, that this is not exactly typical, and many women have a very strong ability to catch potentially inappropriate signals from men that they meet in various business contexts. It is important to keep in mind that most men are actually good guys. Really. So try to operate under an assumption that intentions are good and business related, until otherwise proven. If otherwise proven, meaning harassment or similar, I simply walk away. I shared some tips on how to turn your gender into an advantage in another post
3. How to handle being pregnant - or potentially starting a family - while fundraising for a startup?
This was never an issue to me personally, as my children were already born when we founded Queue-it, and my age at the time likely made it obvious that there were no more kids to come.
However, this is a real issue - not just for pregnant founders, but also for any woman in her mid-twenties to early forties trying to raise funding for her company.
There is no great answer to this, because having a baby will affect your business on some level. So, my best take on the situation is to address the subject in a fairly direct way, by presenting a plan for your maternity leave (if you are already expecting a baby) or by talking openly about your thoughts about starting a family (if you are in an age group where it may seem relevant). The thing is that investors and other business relations are likely to wonder about the situation already, and could potentially have a more drastic theoretical scenario lined up when evaluating your business case, based on previous experiences, general society, or something completely different. Again, this is not that different from a corporate career situation, where my recommendation would be similar.
One of my goals with the networking night was to try to identify the main issues women experience when entering the tech startup community, discuss them openly, and set a course to promote more women to enter the worlds of entrepreneurship and tech. If you have any comments or more questions about my startup journey, you can tweet them to me at @camillaley
Camilla was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.