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Published 09 July 2012 13:24, Updated 18 July 2012 17:15
With her 12,000 word manifesto, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, published in The Atlantic magazine, Anne-Marie Slaughter obviously struck a chord. But in the seemingly endless commentary in response to the article, the focus has been on the career women employed in corporations and government.
But what about the women running their own businesses? Can they have it all? Can they bring upraise families the way they want and create vital and sustainable businesses at the same time?
BRW asked four women entrepreneurs these questions. The answers were a hesitant “yes” ... with a disclaimer.
Women can have it all if they stop feeling guilty, they say. Make the choices about what’s important to you with running a businesses and raising your family but don’t sweat it when those choices mean you can’t have a home-cooked meal on the table at 6pm, a snot-free toddler, a glorious social life and a spotless house.
In 2000, when Janine Allis started work on Boost Juice, the youngest of her three children was seven months old. They were all “at school or on the breast”, as she describes it. Allis was lucky to have the help of her mother, who would play with and watch the children in the backyard as the genesis of Boost happened in the Allis dining room.
“The number one thing that’s come through from speaking to executive or entrepreneurial women is the guilt factor,” Allis, now a mother of four, says. “Even though there were times I think I could have done it better, I’ve never felt guilty for my decisions. I believe being a business woman makes me a happier woman, which makes me a happier and better mum.
“There’s no question your life is a pendulum. There are times when you don’t spend time enough with the family and times when you don’t spend enough with work. And there are times when everything falls through the cracks and it’s a disaster!”
Allis’s children are now aged 21, 15, 13 and 3. When she talks to BRW, Allis is driving them to Dreamworld on the Gold Coast.
In her article, Slaughter explains how she decided to leave her White House job because her teenage boys needed her more than she imagined. But Allis reckons her earliest days at Boost may have been easier if her kids were older. “I have teenagers now and I’ve got more time than ever before and now they don’t want me,” she laughs.
Taking a start-up from idea to business is “all-consuming” and Pascale Helyar-Moray is doing it while raising 2-year-old twins. “There are some days where my two worlds collide,” she says.
Her favourite anecdote details how she was trying to do a phone interview with a journalist while her twins ransacked the saucepan cupboard. “It had been pouring rain for four days straight and the twins had cabin fever,” she says. “Because they were in the kitchen, I couldn’t leave them alone. I had to try and continue the interview while ignoring the rattling and clash of metal in the background.”
Helyar-Moray has just employed an au pair instead of paying for childcare two days a week. “I need more childcare to grow the business and I need to grow the business to have more childcare,” she explains of her “catch-22”. “[Having an au pair] frees me up ... then that will allow me to do work within ‘normal working hours’. And allow me to have my evenings back and also my weekends. Until now it’s been pretty all-consuming and I find myself hurtling from one role into the next,” she says.
“I think it will be a lot less stressful for everyone. There’s going to be more organisation on the home front ... not that we’ve been living in a state of chaos but it will mean another pair of hands.” It also means it won’t be necessary for her husband and her to send “three text messages and a couple of emails to make that carton of milk happen”, she laughs.
At this point, Helyar-Moray says her “constant juggling” has “without a doubt” impinged on the early growth of her online customised jewellery retailer StyleRocks. “I could see that the balls were starting to fall in terms of family harmony, in terms of me trying to manage the work and the family ... a couple of balls had dropped.”
But she refuses to accept that by having an au pair she is “giving anything up”. “I’ve looked after the twins for pretty much two years straight,” she says. “They’re now of an age where they’re independent enough and they understand that mummy goes to work but she also comes home again. If I can have more time available to focus on the work, then I’m going to be less distracted around them, rather than trying to continue to juggle these aspects of my life that are equally demanding and important.”
When BRW speaks to Mandi Gunsberger, she is squeezing some work in on her laptop while her two daughters, aged 5 and 6, are attending a school holiday cupcake-making class.
Running her online parenting news, review and community website Babyology is easier now her children are in school but with another baby due in eight weeks, Gunsberger is considering bringing in a nanny. “You can’t really work at home with kids,” she explains.
Gunsberger admits to some “guilt factor” from being constantly on her mobile phone or laptop. “The kids see me working and say, ‘come and play with us’,” she says.
But there’s an area Gunsberger definitely doesn’t feel guilty about. “I look at my home life as a business and anything that doesn’t add value to me I outsource,” she says. “I think I’ve got the kid thing down pat and the career thing but anything else additional, like home-cooked meals or a clean house ... I’ve just had to be OK with that and decide my kids would not remember me later in life if I cook them an amazing meal but they will remember me from coming to a swim class or reading them a book. That’s taken me a while to learn.”
The chief executive of social search start-up Posse, Rebekah Campbell, is working day and night to prove her business. The 34-year-old doesn’t have children but says it “on my radar” for the future. “I’ve always been incredibly driven, probably to a point where it’s not particularly healthy, but I also plan to have phases in life,” she explains. “I always think that phase will come but I haven’t prioritised it yet. Right now I’m happy doing what I’m doing but I don’t really do that much else.”
Nonetheless, when the time for raising a family comes, Campbell doesn’t intend to step back completely from her business. “No I don’t think I could be a stay-at-home mum,” she says, but adds that whatever decision women make “depends on the kind of partner you have”.
The daughter of two academics, Campbell says her parents worked long hours, often travelled to conferences, and had passionate discussions about various topics at the dinner table. “Would I rather they came home every day at 3pm? No, I wouldn’t have,” she says.