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.”

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit


About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.