I can remember being in tears leaving my small children at home while I traveled for my business.
I would think things like, “What type of mother am I if I cannot be around for important events when they need me?“. I would feel so guilty about my absence from their lives. After all, mothers have traditionally been the caregivers and I was clearly not a traditional mom, at least not all the time.
When I was making travel plans my parents would ask, “Who is going to watch the kids while you are gone?”
This question frustrated me because I have a partner and we are a team and because it was not only my parents that asked this question, it also came from people my own age.
People never asked that question when my husband left for 10 weeks of training. It was, of course, my duty to look after the kids when he was gone. I don’t think it bothered me as much as it did him though, as he was insulted by the thought that he was incapable of doing the work of looking after our kids, his kids.
There are social norms and expectations about being a mother that are ingrained into our upbringing. Expectations that we will be the key person to fix our kids problems, emotionally support them when they are upset, and teach them what is expected of them in life. It is not that others believe this, it is that we believe it and yes, most of us do believe this to some extent.
There are also social norms and expectations of women in leadership roles, upper management, and business ownership. For several generations, women were expected to quit their jobs when they married so that they could have children and raise the family. I remember my grandmother saying to me once that she was envious of my generation because of all the opportunities I could choose from. She could choose to be a teacher, nurse, or secretary (she was a secretary) and she had to leave her job when her kids were small.
It makes sense at that time why women were not chosen for management roles. After all, how could you, as a woman, be expected to perform if you have to leave to care for a baby or child? It also makes sense that it will take time to change cultural beliefs and habits. Improvements since my grandmother’s era are significant.
One of the best ways to continue the advancement of women and bring equality to all areas of life is by having successful businesses lead by strong successful women with healthy children and happy home life. But how is this possible?
No really! I have learned more about human interaction through dealing with my kids’ challenges than I ever thought possible. The great news is, everything I have learned I can apply to interactions and relationships in my business.
As my kids have gone through school, three kids, 4 years apart, 16 years (and counting) of teachers, friends, bullying, misconduct, conflict, disappointment, reaching goals, inadequacies, I have had to become a more knowledgeable person to be able to help solve their issues. I have taken courses, programs, paid for professionals, done research and participated in support groups to help learn and deal with the challenges they faced in a way that would gain them the best results possible.
I have increased my emotional intelligence, social capital, conflict resolution, teamwork building, leadership, and negotiation skills. All these skills have helped me deal with managing teams on projects, developing affiliations and partnerships, dealing with unhappy customers (yes, it happens to us all), managing expectations during project milestones, building trusted connections that lead to new clients, etc.
Don’t downplay the effort you put into understanding your kids, their teachers, friends, and the professional that support your family (like doctors). These skills are key to being a strong, respected leader inside your business.
I can’t tell you how often I have heard a businesswoman argue that they need something, but they cannot do anything about it right now because first, they have to…
The excuses are interesting and varied and most often are tied to their fear of being seen as a failure. Starting anything is always a gamble for success. Implementing something new, when you have identified it is needed, should be part of a plan, not left to a ‘hope and a prayer’.
These delays are usually around completing something else that they have not been able to complete. The mindset around this is, “if I can finally make this piece work, then I can justify investing in the next piece.” The problem is that often the next piece is needed to make the first part work.
For instance, in growth, there comes a time that it is impossible to take on any additional work without first hiring another person to take on the work you now cannot do. Deciding to hire a person is hard, particularly if you have not built that into your business plan. Wanting more growth but not wanting to hire is like wanting to get from L.A. to N.Y.C. in one day but not wanting to fly.
Making clear decisions for growth at the time it has to happen is the key to building a business plan that supports your growth.
As a mother, I’ve had to make decisions that I was worried might not work out.
What if the decision I make affects my child for the rest of their life in a negative way?
One of my kids does not like school. They found it difficult to be in class, to understand the required work, to do the tedious assignments, and to simply sit for hours on end. To help them I looked at getting them an IEP (Individual Education Plan) that would give them extra help and support.
Speaking to experts and other teachers in the system I found that there was a key drawback to having this label assigned to my child; it was a label and labels stick. Did I really want to put a label on a kid that already didn’t fit in?
A label that immediately said to a teacher, this kid is going to be more work. A label that ensured that peers would know he couldn’t keep up. Would he be bullied? Would he be ignored or left out of learning because the teachers thought it would be too difficult? It was a hard decision to make, but it had to be made.
I built a plan around what I wanted for him in life and what his short-term goals were for himself. I found that the decision became easier to make.
Life does not stand still. Change is happening and you have to make decisions to keep up with that change, so learn how to decide what will work best for your future plans before you have to decide.
Ability to ask for help
Strong women ask for help and get it. Weak women think asking for help is a weakness. This is a skill that is not talked about often. I know, as a teacher in the college, that I and other teachers advise their students to ask if they don’t understand, but there is something about asking that feels too vulnerable to be worth the effort.
What if asking shows your peers or teacher that you have not been paying attention, that you cannot understand simple instructions, that you don’t ‘get’ the concepts that the others in the class seem to all understand? The shame that comes from such a result is too hard to face and we learned this young so we still don’t want to do it as an adult.
The problem is, if you are not asking, you are missing key information that will ensure your success. I work with some of the most intelligent experts in their industries and I can tell you that when we go through issues they are facing and they ask for specific help, they are surprised by the insights and knowledge they gain that they didn’t know they were missing.
They are not ashamed to say, “I don’t know this” because by surrounding themselves with experts that know the things they do not know ensures that their business has the breadth of understanding that can support any complexity of its endeavors.
You need a team that sees you as a business owner and supports your position (e.g. partner, spouse, kids, parents, friends, and other help like daycare providers, nannies, afterschool programs, etc.). I am grateful to have a partner that is supportive of my business, but also of my position as a business owner.
I am not just trying to make money from a hobby, this is my career and I am serious, and he knew it. Just as if I had climbed in my car to commute to Toronto for a job when I was in my office I am at work. This meant, when our kids were younger, we needed daycare at an expense of over $12,000 a year. An expense that could not be supported by a hobby.
My husband knew when I made purchases for my business I was deciding as a business investment, not as a family expense. I didn’t always have this confidence, but now my decisions are made without permission or guilt because of my experience. As an example, I once visited a car dealership on my own to purchase a new car for my business. I walked all the way through the dealership, in a business suit, and not one agent asked if they could help me.
At another dealership, the salesman that was helping me asked if I wanted to wait to hear the details for when my husband came in. Neither of these dealerships got my business. My team knows I have full discretion on my business spending and that my goals are always to invest for the success of my business, my contractors and my clients.
Having others that see you as the owner will give you the confidence to make the tough decisions that can only be made by the top management of a business. Sadly, this is not how a lot of women see themselves. I have had women business owners walk away from possible growth because their husbands (not their CFO) told them they could not afford it.
I have seen women turn down opportunities because their husband doesn’t want them to go out to meetings at night. Wanting to do something for your business and not doing it because you don’t have the support is different than choosing not to do it. If your business needs something and your support stops you from getting what you need, you have the wrong support people.
I have three kids. I mentioned that our daycare one year was over $12,000. At the beginning of my business that was a significant sum. Kids also need equipment for sports, supplies for school, clothes to fit in, dental work, etc. Plus, there are days when, as a parent, you cannot work because your kid is at home sick. One year the chicken pox took up a week of work as it went through all three kids, one at a time.
Budgeting for home has made me excellent at budgeting for business. Understanding what might go wrong, where else I may have to pay money, what else I might need as my business grows and “clothes to fit in” are key to planning for business growth. It is not just the current expenses, but what else can I plan for. The more I know about what I might have to or want to buy in the future, the easier it is to budget for the future and the less likely I will end up not having the money I need. This sounds easy, but I can tell you from experience it is not.
I have had more times than I want to count when I have not been able to pay for an unexpected expense. I’m not even talking about mistakes (like a printing mistake that cost me $2500) but opportunities for investment, marketing, growth, or networking that were valuable and needed. My clients come mostly from my speaking engagements so not having the money I need to travel to an audience that could generate $10,000 to $20,000 or more income can negatively affect my business for months.
Stories from our past usually show that successful men have the connections that get them critical resources when needed. In the book “Think and Grow Rich” Napoleon Hill recommends using the support system of the mastermind stating that “No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind.”
Having more than one mind focused on your issues for the benefit of your business and personal growth is an intangible asset. As I grew my knowledge and my business I needed to grow my reach. I supported many other women who had the knowledge I needed and the connections I could use through associations we belonged to, networking we attended and paying for access to mastermind groups that had people I could grow my business with.
There is no way I could have grown my business without the contacts and relationship I nurtured and built over time. Their influence, on me and my business, is ingrained into everything I do and offer.