This piece was originally published on Business Insider and is republished here with permission. This is a response to Venture Capitalist Paige Craig’s piece on his concern about women founders and CEOS.
First, thanks to Paige for the honesty, humility, and desire to start a dialogue on this important issue. In addition to him airing general concerns about the dirty little thought (“A pregnant founder / CEO is going to fail her company”) that popped up in his head, I’m glad he asked the specific question he did – specifically: “…how in the hell is this founder* going to lead a team, build a company and change the world for these businesses carrying a kid around for the next few months and then caring for the kids after?”
* “this founder” would be me
I don’t blame Paige for doing his job as an investor by bringing up his concerns about my company or my plans for its future. I agree with sentiments expressed by others who have commented on this post, however, and think the it’s very unfortunate how often this line of questioning is focused on women alone. I’ve never heard someone ask the same of a Founder/CEO/Dad, worrying about a slightly different dirty little thought: “An expectant father / CEO will fail his company.” The idea that mothers are the de facto “foundation parents” to a new baby (or two) perpetuates the stereotypes and structures that make it more difficult for anyone, male or female, to balance work and family in the first place.
But let’s step back a bit. This post isn’t just about a big-picture issue, it’s also about my personal journey and ProFounder. I haven’t responded until now, not because of a lack of interest or desire to participate in this dialogue but because, frankly, I’m busy running said company. I expect to be even busier with not just one but two babies (yes, to be clear, I’m expecting twins) arriving this fall. And as all entrepreneurs know, you live and die by your ability to prioritize. You must focus on the most important, mission-critical tasks each day and night, and then share, delegate, delay or skip the rest. So, while Paige’s post was intriguing and important, it wasn’t urgent – until it came to my attention that my team was somewhat bothered by it. When they saw one of our investors questioning my abilities as a leader, they were confused and frustrated. And so I am now replying on their behalf as well as mine.
Paige and I met before I was telling anyone besides my family and my staff that I was expecting. As is typical, I announced it officially right at the standard 12-wk mark. Nearly all of my 30+ investors responded immediately with enthusiasm and congratulations, and many of them also offered to help think through post-maternity work plans, which I greatly appreciate. Paige is our most recent investor, so he missed the big official announcement a few weeks ago (I told him as soon as I saw him).
From the start, ProFounder was created to make sure anyone could be empowered to pursue their dreams through entrepreneurship. Together with my investors, we agreed on strategies and goals, key milestones, etc. I promised them our team would work its hardest to meet these goals, and we’ve been doing so ever since. I never did, and never would, promise them that I wouldn’t fall in love, get married, have a family at some pt. Why would I? Who in their right mind would actually ask this of a person? And what would it even mean to keep a promise like that?
Parenthood will be a new experience. As with any new experience, with lots of variables and forces beyond my control, it’s hard to know what will happen in the future, or exactly how I will feel when I’m in it. But, I’m comfortable with this – I am an entrepreneur – and this doesn’t mean I can’t have a carefully considered plan, informed by the advice and wisdom of other leaders I respect. I enjoy my conversations with Paige and if we’d had more time to talk live before this blog post, I’d have simply responded in answer to the “how the hell [will she make it work]…” question. I would have said that I have an incredible cofounder and an amazing, talented team. They believe in my leadership, my ability to serve them and our vision – with or without kids. I would have talked about my strong support system, including a husband who is a true partner and my greatest champion. I would have mentioned that I am fortunate enough to be able to afford full-time help if/when we need it. And I would have told him that, like most professional women in my situation, I have been thinking about this season of my life for a very long time. (Disclaimer: I’m just talking about my circumstances. This isn’t a complete or prescriptive checklist for anyone else, or a statement about what all women should have or do if they’re in a similar situation.)
There’s another aspect of this conversation about a founder of a company to have the goal of achieving balance at all when in start-up mode, and I’d like to address that too. Do I work long hours? Weekends? Of course. Pull all-nighters when needed? Sure. But working until I fall asleep on my laptop and doing nothing else on a regular basis makes me less effective. Turns out that getting at least a little sleep, exercising regularly, having healthy relationships outside of work, spending time with my family, reading a book for fun now and then, etc. makes me a better Founder/CEO.
Photo credit Kevin McShane/Flickr