As I’ve looked at my facebook feed this last week I’ve been overwhelmed with sadness, watching so many women I know share the abuse they’ve endured in the workplace or their personal life. They are brave, and they are resilient. It strikes me that there is an incredibly deeply entrenched illnesses in our culture, and I want a cultural shift to happen faster than it has — for myself and the hundreds of women entrepreneurs I know, and especially for my 9 year old daughter.
With all of this running through my mind, I headed off to Vegas for the ABCKidsShow on Monday, with Debra Kallinikos, Un.Alum and all around badass woman founder. It’s been my honor to be alongside her this week as she launches her new backpack line, Animal Packers. This is one of the best parts of my role at The Un.Incubator, being part of a founder’s launch. As I’ve worked with her I’ve heard her stories of tenacity, and I’ve become more and more inspired by her compassion and grit.
What I assumed might be an exhausting experience, 3 days selling at a tradeshow, has turned out to be a week where I’ve regained hope. In the booth next to us we met Martin, Co-Founder of Katie Clemons, a wonderful children’s journal company. All week he has stood at his booth, sharing his wife’s story and selling her product. On the other side of us, a family-run business called Potty Boss that was started by their late mother and continues as her legacy. Over the last few days we’ve talked to dozens and dozens of buyers with stores around the country. I’ve never met so many working moms in one place before. I’ve also never seen so many couples who are business partners. This is a kids product show, and lots of theses moms have little ones. Their passion is their kids, and their stores or product lines are a reflection of that. It feels seamless. Their husbands are their business partners and life partners.
I guess as a mom and an entrepreneur I am always looking for examples of this fully integrated life. And I’m always looking for examples of men who truly partner with their wives. So often in the startup scene I see the opposite. I meet women that have kids but don’t feel comfortable bringing that up in a business setting. We talk about it, but they often hide it from colleagues or investors, because it would make them seem less qualified or be taken less seriously. This is the cultural light in which so many women are seen — we don’t talk about it but it’s always there. The unspoken pressure to keep your “family stuff” to yourself. Stay in your lane. Perform. It lacks all the integration of female thinking, and it sets the stage for discrimination to be a norm.
Since we started The Un.Incubator I’ve always had my daughter in and around our office and coworking space. At first I did it, out of a desire to have an integrated life. Then I started realizing that it truly matters to the other women in our space. Here they can share stories about their kids and the balancing act of it all. It is acceptable, because I hold the space for it to be. This is a kind of power I take to heart, it matters.
All week I’ve watched as Debra meets and chats with other women founders. They share their passion for their kids, and their work, it’s all connected. Nothing is off the table. It is a reminder to me, that as women, we can have it all. We can choose to run a business where we get to express ourselves as parents, business owners and partners. We can set the tone. I envision a future were this is no longer rare, but instead it’s common. It takes grit, and it takes the clarity to choose to work with men who are truly awake to the challenges and invested in co-creating that change.
So to each of you who may be feeling as I do, saddened by the overwhelming signs of abuse in our culture, here’s my reminder to you — and to myself. You have permission, to be super picky about who you work with. Permission to exit, from a partnership or relationship that doesn’t match your values, or at worst takes advantage of you. You have permission to say no to investors who might offer money but also perpetuate the bullying abusive culture. You have permission to set the tone, and not put up with anything less than your vision for your life and the lives of your kiddos.