Chatting recently with another parent, who is also in the social enterprise line, we were reflecting on the difficulties that women with kids have in finding a place in the whole ‘start-up’ business culture. I say women with kids because the reality is that women remain the primary caregivers of children in our society even when they work (working part-time more than men etc).
It gave me pause to reflect about our global need to move to economies based on sustainable businesses (business that works with and for the environment and people), and whether we are failing to address a rather large impediment to getting there: the ladies, or rather the lack of the ladies.
So my thinking goes like this. There is a huge market out there providing resources and support for start-ups, but the support that is offered, is in the main structured towards the lifestyle of the young, childless bloke. So all weekend workshops run till 1 am, 6 month incubator programmes, fulltime and more, the full total immersion approach… you get the idea, not a scenario many women with kids can fully embrace, but one which the young and childless can. It will be no surprise to most of you when I say that generally, business (including the new models of start-ups) is structured in a way that does not take into account how a lot of women currently work and live in our society. While there are plenty of young women out there without kids that can do the start-up thing equally with men the reality is that a start-up is often not a single enterprise. Rather multiple business and entrepreneurial adventures are entered into across a lifetime; meaning that eventually most women involved in the start-up life are going to experience the sharp end of this particular stick.
Where the picture looks slightly different is in social enterprise – essentially a social enterprise is a start-up with a social, ethical, environmental mission at its core. In the UK twice as many women run social enterprise than lead small business. Which makes me wonder if there is something about the social enterprise culture in particular that presents fewer barriers and more levers to women when compared to traditional business models, or just that it is easier to push through the existing barriers to business as a woman if you have the extra motivation of a social or environmental mission you want to achieve?
So where am I going with this? Well here is the crux of it: if starting up in business is more difficult for women because of the way the current model of support and incubation is constructed, and if more women are involved and interested in starting up sustainable and social business, then to be really successful at turning our economy into one built on social and sustainable business we need to better understand (and do something about) what impedes or assists women in starting up in any enterprise.
Interested in this issue? here are some more resources…..
 “a company, a partnership or temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. These companies, generally newly created, are in a phase of development and research for markets. …” (thanks Wikipedia).