Family or career: can women have it all?

Ask any entrepreneur the things he or she has given up for the sake of a business and you’ll hear a long list of sacrifices: sleep, personal time, hobbies and – perhaps most important – time with family. 

For many entrepreneurs, both male and female, this last sacrifice is especially acute.

According to the American Express Open Small Business Monitor, a semiannual survey, nearly 90 per cent of female entrepreneurs say they find themselves making sacrifices in their personal lives for their businesses. Women say that of all the compromises they make, they are least willing to give up time with their families, according to the survey, which involved more than 700 managers of small businesses and companies.

I spoke to Alice Bredin, a small-business adviser at Open, a payment-card issuer for small businesses in the US, about these findings. She says she is not necessarily surprised by the sentiment, but she is “struck by the fact that women are being honest” about the challenges they face:

“A woman’s natural inclination is to multitask. Women wear a million hats at a time, and tend to operate with the idea that, ‘I can do this; I can make it all work.’ In the past, women entrepreneurs haven’t wanted to admit to the sacrifices they’re making because that would be admitting that they’re not able to do it all.

“What this [finding] says to me is that women are acknowledging that it’s OK to be ambivalent. Women today feel free to say that.”

According to the survey, about 40 per cent of women believe the economic downturn has caused them to question their decision to become an entrepreneur. But the overwhelming majority – 76 per cent – say the rewards of entrepreneurship outweigh the demands.

So, is it harder to be a female or a male entrepreneur? Bredin gives the edge to women:

“It’s probably harder to be a woman entrepreneur because once you make a decision to have a family, it’s harder to focus on your business. Babies and start-ups have a lot in common: they take and take and take, and don’t really give back – at least in the beginning.”

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