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Where have all the women gone? The rise of women in small business

I was one of a generation of women who was told I could have it all. And I believed it. Career: tick. Kids: tick.  Energy and sanity: Not so much.  I clearly remember the day it all came to a head. It was a Monday morning and I delayed my departure for work so that […]

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I was one of a generation of women who was told I could have it all. And I believed it. Career: tick. Kids: tick.  Energy and sanity: Not so much.  I clearly remember the day it all came to a head. It was a Monday morning and I delayed my departure for work so that I could drop my son at school. Other mums do this all the time, right?

So, there I was, in my beautiful black suit, red lipstick, high heels and with snot from my shoulder to my knee with a hysterical child clinging to my leg because it was ‘cupcake day’ (I don’t know who comes up with these ideas — it certainly isn’t working mums.) Clearly, I did not have any cupcakes. Later, radiating guilt, I rushed late into my first meeting of the day. Everyone around the table looked at me and then looked at their watches, and then resumed the meeting. And I had the profound realisation that I was the only member of the executive leadership team who didn’t have a full-time wife. 

I eventually opted out of my wonderful career to start my own small business. The reasons why were very compelling:

  1. Flexibility

Regardless of how voluminous the ‘workplace flexibility’ policies are in big business, the facts are clear: 

  • on welcoming a baby, women are three times more likely to work part time than men and spend almost three times as much time taking care of the children
  • women account for 68% of primary carers of older people and people with disabilities
  • a Victorian government (Australia) commissioned study has valued unpaid ‘home’ work at $205 billion, with women carrying 63.2% of the load.

Trying to manage this juggle while working as an employee in big business is really, really hard. 

Running my own business offers me maximum flexibility. I write the rules and then rewrite them every day if I wish; I set my own hours; work around my kids and my elderly father and their needs; work from home; and sleep in on the days I need more sleep.

2. Salary

On average women in Australia take home $241.50 less than men each week. According to the World Economic Forum it will take women 202 years to achieve pay parity.

I’m not prepared to wait until I am 252 years of age to achieve equal pay. Running my own business means I get to charge and earn what I am worth, right now.

3. Hours (of) Passion 

If you are aspiring to be the CEO or C-Suite member of a big corporate, you need to put in the hours. A recent US study has found that on average, CEOs work 62.5 hours a week. You want to hope they really love what they do.

Small business owners notoriously rack up the long hours. But they are doing so for themselves. One of the wonderful things about running your own business is that you get to live and breath your passion every single day. As the saying goes – do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.

4. Avoiding the Motherhood Ceiling

Twenty years ago when I told my boss I was pregnant he congratulated me, then told me that I would need to ‘tread career water’ for a while.

Not enough has changed in 20 years. The motherhood ceiling is very, very real. Global research indicates that working mums are far less likely to be interviewed and hired, let alone promoted, as compared with working fathers.

So, why bother?

My story is by no means unique – which is actually great news for small business Australia but not such good news for big business Australia. 

The number of women starting their own business in Australia has increased 80% since 1991, with two thirds of all new Australian businesses in the last decade being founded by women. And yet, corporates continue to scratch their figurative heads as to why they are losing their female talent – where have all the women gone?

Come on – it’s really not that much of a mystery. 

Kate Christie is an Australian time management specialist, best selling author, global speaker and the founder and CEO of Time Stylers. Her fourth book, Me First: The Guilt-Free Guide to Prioritising You (published by Wiley), is available in all good book stores, including Target US (from Sept 2020).

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