Business Irish

Friday 28 October 2016

Raising a family and running a business - mum's the word

It's one of those cheesy terms we hear from America, but the reality is that more Irish women than ever are starting their own businesses as 'mompreneurs'. We talk to three women who have done just that

Lora O'Brien

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

WORKING MOTHER: Yasmin Vorajee runs her business from her home in Leitrim. Photo: James Connolly
WORKING MOTHER: Yasmin Vorajee runs her business from her home in Leitrim. Photo: James Connolly

Raising a family and starting a business are two of the most challenging things a woman can do. Potentially, either challenge can be hugely rewarding or incredibly crippling, so what drives these women to do both at the same time?

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Mompreneur is a neologism - a newly coined term that's entering common use. It's defined as a female business owner who is actively balancing the role of mother with the role of entrepreneur. Our first business owner, Anna Louise Young, is quite happy to take it on board to describe herself.

Anna Louise has run Accents Coffee & Tea Lounge on Stephen Street in Dublin since 2011, and she has a son who is just a year and eight months old. She tells us: "I think mompreneur is a very flattering term as there are many women balancing work with parenting, but they don't get the recognition in their title for one of the most important jobs and possibly one of the hardest - being a mum! The connotation I believe is that it's an entrepreneur born out of the necessity to work around family life in an effort to balance both. This is certainly the case for me - I wanted to be a full-time mum, but I also knew that I wanted to remain in the professional world and satisfy my need of 'ticking things off the list'. It gives you more control to work around family priorities."

She draws clear parallels between running your own business and being a parent: they're both exhausting, relentless, never run just 9am to 5pm, and you don't know when you'll get a break. Anna Louise further compares the two endeavours as similar in the lack of sleep, and making many decisions without guidance - just learning as you go.

She says: "You gain enormous perspective about what you really should and shouldn't waste energy worrying about."

Global business advisory company Grant Thornton has been tracking gender diversity in business leadership over the past decade, and their 2015 report shows there has been very little change in the headline figures.

Today, just 22pc of senior roles in the world's companies are held by women (compared with 19pc in 2004), and almost a third of businesses have no women in their senior leadership teams. So it's no wonder that woman are looking to be their own boss.

Catherine Keighery is the owner and manager of Red Lane; a ladies boutique in Tramore, Co Waterford, which she opened in 2005, an e-commerce site that went live in 2008, and a fashion agency since 2013. This busy woman works full time on the shop floor, and is also responsible for all the buying and day-to-day running of the businesses - while also a single parent to her 16-year-old daughter. We asked her what she sees as the top challenge for women in business in Ireland today? "Being taken seriously by some people. Sexism is, unfortunately, alive and well." She says, though, that it's not something she'd take any notice of. Maybe that's because she's too busy?

She's not comfortable with the term mompreneur, and feels that her business, or herself, has been taken less seriously because she is also a mother. Yet it's definitely not easy to do both, and her biggest challenges are around time management.

"When I discover how to be in two places at once, my problems will be zero. I want (and try) to be home after school every day, or at least at a reasonable time, but unfortunately that's not always the case. You can have all the carefully constructed plans in the world but things crop up that cannot be left and you're caught in a position where somebody has to be let down. This goes both ways, sometimes you have to sacrifice family time, and sometimes you have to say 'screw work' and run out the door in the middle of a crisis. I've always been acutely aware of my home/work balance, the guilt is sometimes all-consuming but you can only do your best. I feel I've done my best, I really hope it's been good enough."

In 2014, Enterprise Ireland launched a focused campaign to support and develop women in business, particularly what they deem a HPSU - 'High Potential Start-Up'. Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon said in an interview that 2013 saw a 100pc increase in the number of female-led HPSU investments. "The development of high-potential start-up businesses is core to Enterprise Ireland's role in developing sustainable export-oriented companies," Sinnamon explained.

But the majority of mothers are not setting out to develop HPSUs. After her corporate HR and training career ended through redundancy, Yasmin Vorajee took the opportunity to start her own business, Tiny Time Big Results - coaching entrepreneurs on how to build a productive and profitable business, online and offline. Her clients are all over the world, and her business works very well from her home in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim, where she also raises her children aged one and four.

She took the perpetual struggle to work within the 'tiny time' she has available for her business each day, and built her business to work around the fact that on most days, she only has three hours work-time available, and this is what she teaches her clients too.

Yasmin has learnt to leverage her time and resources effectively to give a great financial return, as a mother and an entrepreneur - but is not happy with the mompreneur term. "I dislike the term because nobody calls men 'dad-preneur'. Why do we have to reduce what women do to their ability to bear children?"

Indeed, maybe we should just leave these women to running their businesses without labels.

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