Founder, Fundraising Heavy Hitter, Public Speaker and Market Strategist
It is hard talk about your family or personal life, especially as a woman in business.
The advantage of being an entrepreneur is the chance to create your own work culture.
Eliminate the phrases “having it all” and “work-life balance” from your vocabulary.
Lesson: She Works with Rachel Braun Scherl
Step #6 She Works: Banning "having it all"
I wasn't comfortable until I'd been working 15 or 20 years to even mention that I had a personal life. So for a long time, and I think it's changed so dramatically. You know, if I had an appointment with my kids I never made a big deal about it. One of the advantages of being an entrepreneur and creating the culture in which you work is that you can set the rules.
So one of the things that my business partner Mary and I used to do when we were interviewing people for our start-up is we'd say, "We're the culture. It might not be for you, it might be exactly for you. But this is it, we don't babysit. We assume that everyone has lives. We want you to get done what you need to get done." I saw men and women also feel like they had to give more explanations. I don't need an explanation. If you're getting the work done, I don't care where it is. Now that's me. I can't speak for everybody else, but that's me.
If you need to leave to go to a doctor's appointment or take your grandmother to the hospital or go for a run, it's not my job to judge the value of those activities. My job is to make sure that you understand what the expectations are and that you deliver them.
I think every woman has war stories about things that have been said, over the years. I think with each passing year those go more and more to the background. So I have a very specific memory when I was taking my oldest child to pre-school for the first time. I was meeting some moms and I was dressed and I was leaving from there to go to work, and I hugged and kissed my daughter goodbye and she skipped into the class. She didn't have separation things. Every parent has different things, separation wasn't one of ours.
One of the mothers, who was standing next to me, says, "Is that your daughter, the one with the braid?" I said "Yes". She said, "And that was the whole goodbye?" and I said "Yes", and then the other mother looked at the first one knowingly and said "Oh, she works." and in the subtext was "She works, so her daughter must be used to spending time with strangers, so that's probably why she's so well-adjusted."
One of the things about being a female entrepreneur is, I think, there's not enough written really about how difficult it is. Not just because you're a woman, but because being an entrepreneur is hard and if you have a family that you need to balance, both children of your own or parents that you're taking care of, or have any desire to pursue recreation, or sports, or read, there really aren't enough hours in the day.
So I think there's a lot of pressure, some self-imposed and some external, to do it all. I would say if there's one thing that I would like to accomplish is that the expression "having it all" or "work/life balance" should be just eliminated. It sets a standard that I don't think is achievable.
So the way I talk about it when I talk about trying to do all the things that I want in my life, this "work/life balance", I talk about trying to keep my wheels on the wagon, and some days I'm just satisfied if I can find the damn wagon.
I found ways to not take the barbs and the comments personally or I don't notice them. I was very acutely aware of them when I was fundraising, because I felt like, "Here I am in a professional environment and you're making jokes that wouldn't be appropriate if we were in a middle school lunch room." I had experiences where male partners would say things that I actually thought were disrespectful to their female partners.
I think one of the things you have to do, especially in my case when you're running a female sexual-health business, is you never want to fall into that stereotype of "the angry woman". That never helps you.
So when you're running a female business, you know, you get contacted all the time by people who are very focused on women's political issues. I'm not suggesting in any way that those are unimportant or less important, but I found that as a female business entrepreneur talking about female sexual health that I had to keep it extremely positive, if I wanted people to hear what I was saying. I think there's a tendency that if you say something out of turn, or you're having a bad day – I don't want someone to make the comment that I'm emotional.
I did not expect to be a "vagipreneur", which was a great title that a journalist gave to us that has stuck – it's a person in the business of female sexual health. At the time Mary and I bought the company, my kids were little. They were not even in middle school yet. I felt like it was appropriate, since there was going to be some conversation, to at least lay the groundwork for them about what I was doing and I wanted to do it in an age appropriate way.
My way of communicating to my children was I said, "When you're married and you're in a committed relationship and you love and trust someone, being intimate with them is an important part of the relationship. The company that I'm working with, the product that we're working with is to help that when it doesn't work." That seemed okay for some period of time. Then my friends would find out, they'd tell their kids and my kids would come back with different questions and it finally just got to the point where we had a hard and fast rule. "We're not talking about the product that mom works in." We can talk about the business, we can talk about meetings, we don't want to talk about any of the things that make us blush. So it became just something we giggled about, all the time and now that they're older, they're both teenagers, one's out of high school, it still occasionally comes up and we laugh.
I don't know if it was coincidental but after we bought the company both of my kids switched schools so maybe they wanted to go into witness protection or something. But it was an interesting experience doing this, because it was oftentimes really about the content of the business in terms of what, socially, people were interested in. As opposed to the business of being in business, which is always what I had focused on.