Michelle comments for Forbes
You're Not A Mumpreneur, Just An Entrepreneur
In a recent BBC article, what business people call themselves was highlighted. The often-used 'mumpreneur' label was branded as patronising. Research from payments specialist moneycorp also revealed 65% of respondents believed that ‘mumpreneur’, which has been used for over a decade to describe those who combine motherhood with running their own business, was a negative term. The top complaint, raised by nearly half (49%), was that the term is patronising.
Jo Fairley, campaign ambassador for moneycorp remarked: “Entrepreneur is already a gender-free term, so we should no more talk of ‘mumpreneurs’ as we should of ‘dadpreneurs’. A much more accurate description is actually 'flexi-preneuer', because more and more men and women are enjoying the flexibility and rewards of running their own e-sales enterprises. As a nation, we must back them to succeed, and not hold them back through conscious or unconscious bias over their gender. I firmly believe there’s never been a better time to expand overseas, nor a better time to embrace the opportunities such a working life offers.”
The majority of female business founders had experienced some form of gender discrimination. A quarter had been subject to blatantly sexist comments, and almost twice as many (46%) felt they had been patronized by another person. One third had missed out on a business deal as a result.
Female business founders based in London had the toughest time, with 61% complaining of gender bias in contrast to 38% from the North East. Interestingly when quizzed as to their inspirational business heroes, the top answers were all male. Alan Sugar, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs were seen as individuals to emulate, Karren Brady was the top female hero in at six, just after the women’s own fathers.
The research revealed some clear trends: Young women aged 18-24 were the most likely to report they had been held back as a result of their gender (57%), falling steadily in line with the age of the respondents, to just 11% for those aged 55+. Encouragingly the research revealed the opposite trend when it came to exports, far more 18-34-year-old women had sold products overseas than their older counterparts.
I wanted to gauge what micro business owners thought about this research, what they called themselves and what this said about the businesses they have created and the wider perception of especially women in the business environment.
Stacey MacNaught, Founder, MacNaught Digital:
"I dislike the term 'mumpreneur.' It implies to me that you're a mum also running a cute little business on the side, right? Why would a dad who runs a business be an entrepreneur, or a businessman, and a mum doing the same be a mumpreneur? It's condescending and, for me, there's more to what I am than a mum. I don't feel I have to state that I'm a mum running a business any more than I should have to state that I'm a mum being a friend to someone or a mum doing the food shop.
"I run a small content marketing consultancy. There are four of us in the business now. But I actually call myself a Consultant. Official job title would be Director, but, because my consultancy started as me freelancing and the other people now in the business also have the flexibility to work from home if they wish, I still very much regard myself as an independent consultant."
Cathy Hayward, Managing Director, Magenta Associates
"I’ve been called a mumpreneur in the past and I wasn’t sure how to take it at the time. Just because I’m a mother of three children and also happen to have set up and run a business doesn’t necessarily make me different from fathers who do the same. But there’s a perception that mothers who embark on careers are somehow to be celebrated (or vilified depending on your perspective).
"The harsh reality is that I know I would struggle to combine working for someone else in a traditional, senior, 9-5 pm role with motherhood. Running a small business is hard work, and I probably work longer hours than I did as a publishing director for a contract publishing house. But there is an element of flexibility when it’s your own business – if I need to come in late because one of my children has an assembly, for example, then I can. I found this particularly useful during my son’s GCSEs last year when I could block out time in my diary to support him revising and on exam days. It would be an understanding boss who would allow me to do that as an employee."
Victoria Larder, Founder, PAVE.
"I don’t call myself an ‘entrepreneur’, as that term is a bit of a joke with programmes like The Apprentice over using it on wannabee TV stars who don’t meet the dictionary definition! I’m not particularly patronized by the term ‘mumpreneur’. Although it’s somewhat provincial, bringing to mind images of a mother working at her kitchen table whilst her children play in the background eating biscuits, any term which celebrates that women can and do succeed in business despite having become a mother is a great thing. Having said that, if anyone dared to introduce me as ‘Victoria Larder, a mumpreneur’ I’d be horrified as it’s reductive; I created PAVE London before becoming a mum. Motherhood doesn’t define me in business."
Paola Diana, Founder, Nanny & Butler.
“I find the term ‘mumpreneur’ to be an indirect method of belittling female businesswomen and business owners and a way of segregating male and female individuals within the business sector. Mumpreneur is a term we see frequently within the micro-business space and suggests that business owners who are also mothers are simply venturing into business as a past time aside from their primary roles as carers for children. In the 21st century, this couldn’t be further from reality – as more and more females balk at the idea of choosing between chasing a career and raising a family. Instead, we can do both and with great success. I ask, why do we not have a word for male businessmen with children? Fatherpreneur? I somehow doubt it will take off."
Sophie Phillipson, Founder, HelloGrads
"Personally, I prefer to call myself a ’startup business owner’ which explains, succinctly though vaguely, what I’m doing. ‘Entrepreneur’ isn’t a word you should give yourself. It is a title that ought to be earned, that you are bestowed by your peers as a measure of success in – and commitment to – your business. “There shouldn't need to be a distinction between male and female titles but, as 'entrepreneur' is a masculine word in French, and people feel the need to further distinguish women with versions like 'mumpreneur', female business owners should reclaim the feminine version, which is 'entrepreneuse', for simplicity."
Michelle Wright, Founder and CEO of Cause4
“Mumpreneur is a naff, lazy word. It propagates the myth that entrepreneurs are mostly men and there is something extraordinary about women who start a business. In fact, history is full of them. What’s also distasteful is the impression that it gives that women who lead businesses are not serious because we’re juggling competing priorities. Issues faced by entrepreneurial mothers are no different to those that fathers cope with when juggling a career and a family. Women don’t need a pat on the head for finding a way to make a living and reproduce. Perhaps words like mumpreneur can sow the seeds in the minds of women that it is possible to raise a family on your own terms and be successful in business. But most women who are working hard to build their own businesses would sooner have their success measured on the merits of their enterprise.”
Michelle McCarthy, Founder, Rowdy Bird Media
"On one hand, it's a terrific immediate PR and branding technique; 'mumpreneur' conjures an image of the hardworking mum at her kitchen table, while a 'womanpreneur' is risking it all with nothing but a power suit and possibly some hard won startup funds. But while these terms are easy semiotics for a busy world, they can be limiting. Anyone considering a portmanteau of 'entrepreneur' should consider how it may impact their business success in the long run: potential investors may fail to take ‘a hobby’ seriously, or if successful you may be lumbered with a 'niche' legacy that’s hard to shake. Can we bin 'girl boss'? It’s beyond infantalising. You don't see men calling themselves 'boy bosses'... they're just bosses. Better yet, use ‘founder’ to define your position."
Joyce Ong, Founder, MarketingTech London
"I really think the terms ‘solopreneur’ and ‘mumpreneur’ serve no useful purpose in the world of entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur is someone who is in a constant state of flux, and can be caught usually dreaming up the next business idea and taking calculated risks to make that dream a reality. Many entrepreneurs start out as ‘solopreneurs’ when they hatch a business idea, but don’t remain solopreneurs. As they expand and scale their business, solopreneurs will almost certainly require a team behind them. So this label doesn’t make sense. It’s tough enough being a mum and entrepreneur. Being labelled as a mumpreneur - is that supposed to give these mums kudos, or a way of singling working mums out as being ‘different’ to the norm? Why doesn’t anyone use the term ‘dadpreneur’ in that case?! Entrepreneurs nowadays do come in different shapes and sizes. Let’s recognise that and avoid these silly labels."
I also spoke with Professor Mark Hart, Deputy Director, Enterprise Research Centre, Aston Business School:
"Not content with working out whether someone running a business is an entrepreneur or not we have now got a proliferation of labels to describe a particular demographic group the ‘entrepreneur’ is hailing from – mumpreneurs and olderpreneurs are just two common examples!
"They make me cringe every time I hear them as they tend to be demeaning and patronizingg in equal measure playing into the stereotypical entrepreneur as a young white male by seeking to make the distinction. Demographics don’t matter in running a business as it’s what you are doing with your business that counts – disrupting markets, creating opportunities, social and environmental impact and yes, making money.
"So, what do the majority of micro-business owners see themselves as? A project I did some years ago revealed that only 12% of individuals taking the first steps in running their own business felt that the way the word 'entrepreneur' or 'entrepreneurship', as portrayed in the media, described them accurately (Source: Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) media survey for the Department for Business, 2010). Thus, there is a mismatch between entrepreneur/entrepreneurship as portrayed in the media and how people who start and run businesses see themselves.
"This mismatch may be because many individuals who start and run businesses do not identify themselves as entrepreneurs and/or due to a misleading portrayal by the media of people who start and run businesses. For me, it is the former as when I deliver growth programmes to micro-businesses at Aston Business School the vast majority (around 9 out of 10) at the outset do not see themselves as entrepreneurs but rather business owners. However, once we set about explaining the skills needed to grow their business they are more than willing to accept that they are indeed being entrepreneurial – explaining the French definition helps!"
As business and work have changed out of all recognition over the last few years, we need new ways to describe these new business environments and the people that inhabit these spaces. It's now too simplistic to call yourself an entrepreneur. The rise of the gig economy and the side hustle have made small business activity a multifaceted industry. And as for terms like mumpreneur, they serve little purpose than to give the media a convenient label to hand on women business owners.