On October 9, Penelope Trunk wrote a guest post on Tech Crunch titled "Women Don't Want to Run Startups because They'd Rather Have Children." Intrigued by the title, I delved into the article, figuring that she was being snarky. Sacrastic. Maybe a little snide toward "The Man." My jaw hit the floor when I learned that Trunk actually meant that title. She's a mom. And she runs (ran) start-ups -- which, if you're paying attention, voids her title. I remain flabbergasted.
My problem with Trunk's piece is straightforward: it's negative and sets women back in our quest for equal opportunity. She references Jeff Stibel's piece in the Harvard Business Review in which he equates entrpreneurship to disease. She references stress, and hell, and relief that she's going to be able to be the center of her family instead of the center of her business now -- business which she equates with Farmville in a very odd way. (Read the piece. I don't think I'll ever understand the Farmville angle.) Her generalizations are sweeping: men won't scour the town for the best ballet class, men are more confident in their parenting ability... men, men, men have it easier, easier, easier. Men get more funding. Men's priorities are better suited to the start-up life. Men have it right.
So Trunk is just going to stay home now.
Here's the thing: I think there's more to the story of Trunk's "separation" from her company. But, at the end of the day, I don't really care about that. What I care about is that Trunk has done something entrepreneurial, and, instead of sharing her experience in a way that is useful to other "momtrepreneurs," she's bashing it. Instead of saying "had I done this differently" or "if I ruled the VC world, here's how I'd factor lifestyle businesses into my funding ratios,' she says: "too hard" and "can't" and "hell" and "I'm outta here."
Sister, I have a problem with that.
I have a problem with Gloria Feldt suggesting moms shouldn't stay home (you can read about that here), and I have a problem with you saying they don't want to be entprepreneurs. (Can't. Hell. Stress.) Which is it? Are we supposed to work -- or aren't we? The way I read your piece suggests that sure, we can work, but we'd better not try to grab that brass ring Gloria shames us for slapping away. It takes too much of a toll, and you, for one, have decided it's not worth it.
Here's what I want to see from Gloria, from you, and from every single other woman in any kind of power in business -- and from any woman who wants to be: Make it happen. Make it possible. Figure out a way for us to say "can" instead of "can't." Structure your workday in a way that works for you -- and set the tone for your company's workday that way. Work for better childcare options. Work for school days and years that actually compete with the rest of the world -- which takes care of part of the childcare problem, actually. Work for the business world to come around to more family-friendliness. That starts with lobbying for extended maternity leave -- and paternity leave -- and for secure job options after that extended leave. It continues with a focus on work/life balance so that we actually can accomplish in a "normal" workday what we need to do -- and leave the Blackberry and the Outlook aside when we are with our families. It ends with reasonable demands from reasonable people for reasonable change.
One can rightly accuse me of not having start-up experience: I don't, yet. I have been seeking the right opportunity for a while, and I run up against people like Penelope Trunk often: people who don't want to hire me because they know I have kids, instantly making me an unattractive candidate; my priorities might not be in line -- people who don't want to take a chance on me because my balancing act won't look like the 20-something one Trunk references in your piece. They say "can't." I say, "try me." I can give someone a reasonable work week and accomplish more in that week than in a 20-something's twice-as-long week because, after all, I have different priorities. Those priorities make me effective, not overextended.
Thanks to Penelope Trunk, though, it's going to be even harder for moms like me who are trying to grab a foothold in start-up land. People will see me and think "can't." And frankly, that's just not fair. Then again, as my ex-husband's former boss used to say, "Fair is where you take the kids on Sunday to see the pigs." We could ask Penelope, who raises pigs now, a thing or two about that.
Originally published on October 14, 2010.