“Stop being a superwoman – no one is.”
This sentence is a stark reminder of the daily lives of women in the startup world and entrepreneurship. In addition to holding leading positions in their companies – whether they are founders or they manage and are responsible for entire departments – many of them are also mothers.
The opening sentence of this article inspired us to dedicate this International Women’s Day post to those who have perhaps come closest to living up to the “superwoman” epithet – moms in the tech startup world.
What are their daily lives really like? Is it even possible to have a baby and manage a startup? How understanding are the co-founders, the investors, the clients? What adjustments are women leaders forced to make when they become parents? Is it possible to be equally successful in all areas?
We have interviewed two remarkable women from our community to learn how they tackle these and other challenges. Daša Runić manages her own startup, The Social Formula, and is the mother of a seven-months old baby daughter. Marija Vulićević is a marketing manager at Desing, a rapidly growing marketing company, and has recently come back from pregnancy leave. They both agree on one thing – a baby, just like a startup, demands full dedication, and it is therefore vital to manage time properly and have sound organisation and support, both in private life and in the world of business.
Daša, many believe having a startup while also being a mother is next to impossible, and they wonder why someone would even choose to go down this path. Even more to the point, how do you manage to achieve it all?
Daša: In my opinion, entrepreneurs and those who want to create innovations simply have no choice :). This drive is just part of their nature and no other job would satisfy them. On the subject of motherhood, after ten months spent with my baby girl, I genuinely believe that women who manage their own businesses decide to compromise at some point if they can. Then they focus all their attention on themselves and their child, so they could be happy with their baby for at least a couple of months. It is impossible to do all things at once without having some part of your life suffer. Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), we women have to put our careers on hold for a while if we want to have a family.
Marija, what is currently the greatest challenge you face while juggling managing part of a company and being a young mom?
Marija: Now, six months after returning to work from maternity leave, I am much more efficient and effective at tackling the challenges I face on a day-to-day basis, whether they are family-related or concern the work I do. The biggest challenge is “how to manage time”, keep track of priorities and work on them. In my case, as the company I work for is a family business, I strived to keep abreast of any major changes that took place at the company during my maternity leave. After returning to work, I was immediately ready to assume by responsibilities and duties because I had been preparing for them during my leave. Currently, the biggest challenge really is good organisation at work and at home to keep both sides equally satisfied. Of course, flexible planning is always essential because you never know if you will have to stay at home and tend to your sick child and be absent from work on those days or if you will have to make arrangements for someone to mind your child while you are on a business trip.
Have you had to make any adjustments in your approach and the way you work since becoming a parent?
Marija: The only thing I have used to help me adapt is a change in my working hours: I was working shorter hours while adjusting to my new way of life – being a working mom. I think this helped me tremendously in avoiding the “guilt” of leaving my child while at work and gradually catching up with the goings-on and activities at work so I could avoid stressful situations and burnout. Also, I am fortunate to work at a business which supports mothers and is highly supportive of those of us who face new challenges. It is important for all employers to understand that returning from maternity leave in many ways feels just like starting work for the very first time.
Daša, do you have any daily routine that helps you organise better and save time?
Daša: No, there is no routine, I am just not that kind of person. What helps me is staying active, doing my job and training as much as I can, having some “me time”. Also, a key realisation for me was when I accepted that I should not attempt to do everything at once and demand of myself to excel at everything.
Have you faced a lack of understanding and prejudice (e.g. among investors) for being an expectant mother or having a child while managing a startup and how do you deal with it?
Daša: While no one will say it to your face, unfortunately it is not uncommon. The only thing I can do is make efforts to raise awareness on the subject of women in business, as I believe this will bring about to changes, if we all do our part. Investors, business partners or line managers may think a woman who has a baby will not be committed, and this assumption is in itself unfair. There are thousands of reasons why someone may not be committed, regardless whether they are a man or a woman. Starting a family certainly makes us more responsible and reliable persons, and this has been true both of me and my partner. The only difference is that no one really questions anything when it comes to men, while a woman has to justify and prove herself in order to be assigned to a position or to receive an investment.
Marija, what is the key to successful balancing of family life and developing a business, to juggling work and private life without harming either?
Marija: Being a working mother is very hard work, but if you always organise your day properly, so you can manage to complete your work duties and then dedicate yourself you out child, you will function better and be more satisfied at the end of the day. The key is keeping a focus and having goals to strive for. The key is in striking a balance – you will not be satisfied and successful if you burn out, if you do not work on yourself and if your whole world revolves around work and children. You have to find time for yourself, time you will spend precious moments with your partner, your friends, time for going to the cinema or having a glass of your favourite drink.
I also think your partner’s support is essential. If there is no mutual support and sharing of household chores and child care, one parent will be overburdened and, as a result, will not be able to keep up with what is expected of them. Also, this leads to frustration and dissatisfaction, from which our children suffer the most. When the parent is happy and satisfied, the child will feel the same way.
Daša, how important is support from the team and co-founders to moms who are also company founders?
Daša: Honestly, it is indispensable, because if you have reliable co-founders, they will “stand in” for you at certain times, and you will do the same for them should the need arise one day. In my case, my co-workers attended some important meetings which I was unable to attend and I would to the same for them if they were prevented from attending for any reason, be it a small baby at home or something else, regardless whether they are a man or a woman.
What is, in your opinion, needed for greater understanding and better support for women who are startup founders?
Daša: We would all love to have a successful business and a family, but all that takes up a lot of time. as I’ve already said, I believe one has to prioritise one thing at a time. It would be best if it could be a commonly accepted thing, something that is implicitly understood, both for women who want to have children and a family and for men, associates, investors. There is no silver bullet, no easy solution; we must all do our part and offer understanding to women founders and entrepreneurs as they tackle the daily business challenges. The system and the government should of course support it. In this way, we would encourage women to work on themselves, to dare to have their own business and their independence.
Marija, what do you see as key to greater understanding and better support for female entrepreneurs?
Marija: The issue of discrimination against entrepreneur moms and their rights regarding childbirth and maternity leave has taken centre stage recently. Unfortunately, the wording of the law is such that mothers who are entrepreneurs do not have equal status as mothers who are employed, and they are denied equal treatment when exercising the right to child care leave, the right to a fair calculation of allowance for paid contributions and the right to full amount of allowance for childbirth leave. In this context, I believe that better support for female entrepreneurs must start with amendments to the Law, because, at the end of the day – moms rule.