To get ahead in business, do women need to keep their children a secret?

Written by Monica Markovski, PhD, de la Fember.
“Fledgling companies are like sticky-fingered toddlers. You’ve got to watch them every minute,” writes Hannah Seligson in her article “Nurturing a Baby and a Start-Up Business” published in the New York Times. Upon first reading this article, Seligson portrays what the 21st century woman is like — smart, independent, and most importantly, she has it all. This woman has a career and a family, and she makes it work. This is the woman I want to be. This is the woman we all want to be.At first, I thought that likening this journey into starting up a company to nurturing a toddler is an ingenious way to draw women into the world of business and venture capital. But reading the article a second time helped made me realize that this analogy only strengthens the pervading stereotype that women should be worried about the home and family.

Women have come so far in lowering the glass ceiling in industry and finance, we’ve still got a long way to go. For example, Carla Roney, co-founder of the XO Group mentioned that women search for investments to start a new company, venture capitalists will vehemently deny that motherhood and pregnancy are deciding factors for investments. “I can pretty much guarantee you, behind closed doors it is a factor,” she tells Seligson. So much so that she kept her baby a secret when she started her new business! (To be fair, my first thought was ‘How can you even keep an entire tiny individual a secret for such a long time’, but that is beside the point.) However, investors do not seem to care if a male founder of a company has multiple children because many assume “that his wife will take care of them”, says Paige Craig in Seligson’s article.

Unfortunately, this story is similar to one many women have experienced, even myself. I am a Harvard-educated woman who knows what she wants out of her life — a family and a career. So during the first few years of my PhD career, I decided to speak with a female professor that I absolutely admired. To me, she had it all — a loving husband, a wonderful family and a thriving scientific career. So I was hoping she would provide me with some good advice. But all told me was to hire a good nanny because “the amount of quality time with your kids is important, not the quantity of time.” This honest answer really shocked me, and for the longest time, I was upset to have been given such advice. But as the shock died down, reality set in; women still deal with gender discrimination on a daily basis, whether it is covering up the fact that they are pregnant or that they make less money than men do for the same job.

And Ms. Roney’s tale is one of many that Seligson writes about in her article. This double standard undermines the intelligence and creativity of many women around the country and even the world. Hopefully, articles like Seligson’s will open our eyes to the gender discrimination still prevalent in our nation. And armed with this knowledge, we can help change the social stigma surrounding women and business.

To read Hannah Seligson’s article in full: “Nurturing a baby and a start-up business”. The New York Times.