Why We Need 'Dadpreneurs' to Step Up Now
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There’s no doubt that it’s a challenging time to be an entrepreneur. Unprecedented changes in the way that we work and live have upended the best laid plans of most business owners, regardless of what stage of business development their venture is in. For entrepreneurs who are parents, however, the challenges they face are even more daunting. They are now tasked with managing fragile businesses while also overseeing home-schooling, 24/7 childcare, and housework without a break in sight. Not surprisingly, parent entrepreneurs are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted.
For many mothers who are entrepreneurs, the sense that parenting responsibilities and entrepreneurial goals are deeply intertwined is nothing new. In data collected in the months leading up to the global health crisis, one of the study's authors, Kylie King, found that mothers were nearly twice as likely to identify themselves as “mom entrepreneurs,” than fathers who self-identied as “dad entrepreneurs.” This speaks, in part, to persistent gendered divisions of childcare. Dr. King found that father entrepreneurs were nearly twice as likely to have a spouse/partner who does not work or works part-time.
However, it also speaks to a persistent gender bias in our conceptualization of what an “entrepreneur” looks like. Generally speaking, the “default” entrepreneur is conceptualized as a white childless male – and other entrepreneurs are judged by the extent to which they deviate from that image. Indeed, the popularity of the term “mompreneur” signals the extent to which many mother entrepreneurs are identified (either by themselves or by others) by their gender, parental and career roles (and for mothers of color, by their race, as well). Regardless of whether you find the term dismissive or empowering, it nonetheless signals a greater individual and societal acceptance of the intertwined nature of parenting and entrepreneurship for mothers. We recently asked Hitha Palepu, a CEO, entrepreneur and investor, how she feels about the term “mompreneur.” She aptly pointed out that we wouldn’t use the “dadpreneur” to describe fathers who are entrepreneurs. But perhaps we should.
This crisis has made it clear that parenting and work are not separate. Indeed, they never were. However, until now, many father entrepreneurs had the privilege of creating the illusion of separation. This was made possible by the virtue of partners who undertook most of the childcare and household responsibilities, and by way of our collective capacity to separate professional and parental identities when we think about men. The health crisis has caused the veil that separates these two worlds to fray.
Now is the time for father entrepreneurs to step up and embrace these dual identities. Jill Salzman, CEO and founder of The Founding Moms (an organization dedicated to the advancement of mom entrepreneurs), points out that, “If ever there was a time for entrepreneurial fathers to realize that their work and their parenting do not have to be separated anymore, now is that time. Quarantine has ushered in a new era for adults to learn how to weave their work into their family lives. Those who strive to keep them as separate experience additional stress and frustration since they're working against what they truly are — parent entrepreneurs."
By consciously adopting the identity of a “parent entrepreneur” (or “dadpreneur,” if you prefer) during this time, fathers can gain wider acceptance for acknowledging and embracing multiple life roles. As a result, when this pandemic subsides and we return to some semblance of normal, rather than insisting that mother entrepreneurs sublimate their parental role in order to be taken seriously as entrepreneurs, we can have a more egalitarian mindset that empowers all parents to embrace their entrepreneurial journey in alignment with their parenting, rather than in spite of it.
For father entrepreneurs who are willing to take this leap, I have co-authored a book with Stew Friedman called Parents Who Lead. Here are a few key takeaways.
Communicate your values
While most entrepreneurs know the importance of articulating their organization's mission and vision, they often fail to express what is personally meaningful and important to them. This crisis provides an opportunity to more vulnerably share what matters most to us with those around us. Women who embrace the “mom entrepreneur” identity are clearly communicating the value they place on their parental role. Father entrepreneurs should now step up to express the importance of their identity as a father, in tandem with their identity as an entrepreneur.
Share your reality
We’re conditioned to present a polished, professional image of ourselves to the world outside our home. Explore ways in which you might more authentically reveal the challenges, mess, and interruptions of parenting while working at home. This will help normalize the reality that these parts of life are not truly separable, especially now. While you probably shouldn’t air your dirty laundry (literally) in the zoom background, you might more vocally acknowledge that meetings need to be arranged around children’s schedules or have a child who sits in your lap during a meeting. Mom entrepreneurs have often had no choice but to do this, so this is an opportunity for fathers to proactively do so as well.
Engage the people who matter most
As our lives have been turned upside down, it’s no surprise that many entrepreneurs transitioned quickly into survival mode. However, this default mode may not best serve you as an individual, your business, or your family. By engaging with the people who matter most to you in all parts of your life (e.g. children, partner, colleagues, investors, friends) you can take stock of how things are going and identify opportunities to better meet one another’s needs.
Try a new way
Consider experimenting with how you manage your time, attention, and energy. There’s no one “right way” to be a parent entrepreneur right now, but there may be opportunities for greater harmony, if you look for them. Ideas for new approaches often emerge as a result of communicating your values and your reality with the people who matter most. As father entrepreneurs, there is an opportunity to find creative new ways to integrate work and life. Be willing to try a new way, evaluate how it’s going, and take a new tack if it’s not quite right.
It’s a hard time to be an entrepreneur. It’s a hard time to be a parent. But, by more fully embracing how these roles intersect, dad entrepreneurs can join mom entrepreneurs in expressing both the challenges and joys of these dual identities. As we move into the next chapter, whatever it might look like, this will build a foundation for greater gender equity in entrepreneurship. It will change our ideas about what an entrepreneur should look like.