Business networking for mums and mumtrepreneurs is clearly ‘a thing’. But what about for the childfree, is there any sort of equivalent?
Having children does appear to work as a powerful point of reference and as a way of signifying to others that there is a simpatico connection. One can easily see how this can be beneficial professionally speaking. You only have to look at a handful of social media biogs as an example. Many people list that they are a parent even though they maybe sharing work related links and information on Twitter or share a photo of themselves with their child on Linkedin for example. It’s a normalising technique that communicates ‘I’m in your club’.
What if you’re not in the club?
For my part, I am a member of a Facebook group that offers brilliant PR advice and support for entrepreneurs and small businesses regardless of parental status. Nevertheless, for a short while, I did wonder if I should be there, as there seemed to be an awful lot of new mums starting businesses, sharing tips etc in the community. At certain times I felt a little alienated as a member and wondered who might be interested in tlfw if I shared our info. Am I in the wrong group? Will I be offered the same level of support or get the brush off?
However, a discussion cropped up around the experiences of the childfree following a link share to an article about social prejudice. The conversation was full of insightful points and experiences about stigma surrounding the childfree, and the one that really grabbed my attention came from a woman asking
Has anyone felt that not being a parent […] has impacted their business either way – I guess I’m interested more in the client side of things as in – not being a mum, clients may think I wouldn’t be able to help them with family communication issues, for example. Or might potential clients have looked me over because they don’t see children’s pictures in my life
Immediately it got me thinking about mum start-up hubs, communities for mums in business and companies who help working mums return to work on a part-time basis. I’m forever coming across these groups. There is so much support out there in the form of practical advice, knowledge sharing, training and networking for mums. It’s wonderful and on an incredible scale.
Let’s get something clear right now. I’m not dissing this. Hats off to working mums and mummies who start their own business. Power to you sisters. What you do is amazing and I think support and encouragement to tackle the challenges of juggling parenting and business is good. Even though as a non-mum I can’t fully appreciate these specific challenges. My post is not intended to dimish the difficulties and achievements working mothers face.
My point is – what about women without children: where do we fit in? Do we face our own set of challenges and discrimination professionally? And if so, where is our specific help, business network or ready-made market to tap into? Do we have the same opportunities or is there, in fact, a reverse prejudice when it comes to free mentoring, start-up loans and training for instance?
What about childfree women who have taken a career break for health or personal reasons or even because they simply fancied time off? There is no agency or back to work scheme for such women as far as I am aware. Are they seen as less deserving and especially if they’re over 35 and looking for a career change? Age is an issue here and it effects all women. OK, of course, non-mums can apply for positions advertised for part-time and flexible work, but then we could ask: are their CVs and indeed their desire to work this way given equal weighting? I suspect charges of self-indulgence and idleness.
I then started to ponder what would happen if I contacted a mumtrepreneur club and ask them if I could access all the resources? If they were nice they’d probably let me, although they might think I was a little weird. Or worse, they might feel sorry for me. On the other hand, what if I started a business club that was aimed at women of all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience helping them get into work and further their careers, but you could not join if you had children? What if I gave an outstanding business achievement award or funding specifically for a non-mum. Imagine the hullabaloo! I am sort of joking here, but I am sort of not.
I asked a few women I know who have their own business. Anecdotes from friends and a brief bit of unscientific research on the topic of start-ups did suggest that for many being childfree is an absolute non-issue. But there were some people who feel subconsciously parents in business choose ‘their kind’ as suppliers over non-parents and it is something to do with the idea they all share an implicit bond and comparable life experiences. In addition, although it’s 2017, people are still anxious about or suspicious of women without children it seems, if online conversations are anything to go by. Many women still experience a stigma around their child-free status. And when it comes to work and business it sounds like an unspoken bias.
But you know what? Sometimes life is unpleasant and unfair.
Personally, I feel making childfree women more visible and culturally and socially acceptable is the answer. Whereas it is valuable to raise individual issues and have discussions I don’t think complaining about our lot as childfree or creating further separation as women is the answer. All women deserve support achieving professional goals and living out their ambition. Being a parent shouldn’t even come into it. That’s why we support our mummy friends on tlfw and sometimes have shared posts and advice from authors and experts who are mums if they are the most appropriate person.
We’d love to hear more of your thoughts and experiences on this.