Mischelle Davis left her marketing job at Microsoft to launch Sprouts, an organic baby food company. Shannon Gottesman, a former associate at the law firm Davis Wright & Tremaine, just started an eco-friendly baby blanket biz. Claudia Ramirez traded full-time sales for running a children’s clothing boutique out of her home, and Candice Schuchardt, a lawyer and a nurse, worked as a birth specialist at Ballard Swedish Medical Center until she opened The Velveteen Child Bookshop last May.
These Seattle-area women, once integral spokes in the corporate/legal/medical wheel, are also mothers and wives, searching for ways to synchronize their professions and considerable expertise with their personal lives. Increasingly, that means stepping off the larger, time-guzzling corporate track and custom designing a work environment that works for them, and for their families.
But wait. This is the 21st century. Aren’t women going to college in greater numbers than men, and, while they’re at it, often out-performing them? Aren’t they graduating in equal numbers from top professional schools and landing prestigious and competitive positions in the work world?
Well, yes, according to the American Association of University Women, or AAUW. But many women, having jumped into the corporate pool, find the water icy. Getting to “the next level” often means putting in uber-hours. Role models are scarce: Women partners in law firms and CEOs in business — the ones with families — are few and far between. And, while each and every woman interviewed for this story reported that their husbands are “very supportive,” most moms still arrange their kids’ classes, play dates, doctor appointments and summer camps.
The truth is, though they’ve indeed “come a long way,” winning coveted spots at the right schools and the best companies, most women have yet to land a seat at the boys’ table. That’s the table that offers the kind of access to the money, status and power that makes the planet spin.
One year after college graduation, women earn 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn, according to the AAUW Educational Foundation. After 10 years, women earn just 69 percent of what men earn.
According to a National Association for Law Placement, or NALP survey, women attorneys hold 48 percent of associate positions in Seattle-area law firms, but account for only 19 percent of the partners. This pattern repeats itself in law firms all over the country.
A recently released MIT Workplace Center survey asked why. Here’s what they found: “Law firm policies (in Massachusetts) open to the entry of women are not matched by policies open to women taking care of children. Women who negotiate a part-time schedule for family care … are less likely to be promoted to partner than women who stay in firms but do not use part-time options.”
As attorney and former law firm associate Colleen Butler says, “Once you have a child, you realize you are not going to be the one to break through.”
The new deal
So these young women have come up with a fresh new model: start-up businesses of their very own. Still every bit as sharp, savvy and skilled as they were in their former fields, they’re looking to build upon their highly honed talents while desperately seeking the new holy grail of contemporary life: balance.
According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, the number of women-owned firms has grown over the past 20 years at two times the rate of all business. Forty-one percent of women business owners are younger than 45.
Butler calls this the “mamapreneur” movement.
“These moms realize that traditional companies and businesses are not going to support their need for family balance,” says Butler, a Ballard resident who now works for Salmon Bay Community Lending, an all-mom company that offers in-house daycare. “So they are simply dropping those and creating new ones.”
Davis started Sprouts last year, when she was pregnant and thinking about infant nutrition. The company began as a homemade baby food catering service, and now develops healthy snack foods. Ramirez, who opened Kara Kids in the Sammamish Plateau, came up with the idea when she realized there was no place nearby to buy kids’ clothes. Gottesman and her friend Jennifer Porter created Satsuma Designs, a company that makes bamboo blankets. The business, Gottesman says, draws on her legal expertise. “I’ve been able to do thousands of dollars of legal work on my own that we otherwise would have hired a lawyer to help us with,” she says.
It’s no coincidence that so many mamapreneurs set their commercial sights on the baby/child niche. After all, says Ramirez, great ideas evolve from real life. “It’s a way to incorporate your skills with your parenting. You’ll see something in the marketplace and say, ‘I can do that better!’”
For most of these young women, leaving the work world entirely is not an option. That’s because income matters. Around here, the standard of living — as well as the cost — is up. Housing, cars, vacations, kids’ classes, even the price of baby sitters and the occasional night out has turned the one-wage family into a relic.
Issaquah resident Amy Reischauer, an attorney at Drugstore.com, is her family’s primary breadwinner. “You hear how women wouldn’t need to work if they change their lifestyle, but that’s not always the case,” she says. “For many families, it would mean a dramatic change.”
The generation gap
The 20 or so women surveyed for this article, primarily middle class and thirtysomething, comprise a small sliver of the Northwest’s population of young mothers. Yet the sense that a whole new world is emerging is undeniable.
Some of these women are trading a mega-work stage — the corporation, the law firm — for a smaller, more manageable one. Others are finding creative ways to mesh their demanding business ventures with their families.
All seem to accept the fact that the lion’s share of the nurturing and child care falls to them. “The maternal instincts are there,” says Candice Schuchardt. “It’s just the way it is.” And none of these women are willing to sacrifice — for their careers — their vision of what it takes to be a good mother.
The cultural playing field was decidedly different for their own mothers.
“In my day, we had to be superwoman,” says Sally Narodick, the retired CEO of a publicly held educational software company who was the first female senior vice president at Seafirst. “We had to prove we’d work as long, as hard and as diligently as men. If not, we’d be bypassed.”
To climb those ladders, she “gave a lot of blood,” she says. She worked long hours, didn’t see girlfriends, rarely read a novel, and employed a nanny to help with her two children. But there was no thought of “opting out” and re-entering the work world later. “Either you had a professional career and gave it your all, or you knew you were accepting something very different,” says Narodick.
Her own daughter, Lisa Colton, who is married with two young children, makes more time for family, Narodick says. Colton, who lives in Vermont, is founder of Darim Online, which provides Web site and Internet strategies to Jewish organizations. “Lisa and her peers don’t feel they have to prove themselves as much by making it to the top tier.”
Colton and her Gen X colleagues came of age in the ‘90s, post-Gloria Steinem, pre-Martha Stewart. That social and political segue-from feminism to home-and-hearthism-has not gone unnoticed.
“For us, work had a political meaning,” says Pepper Schwartz, author and University of Washington sociology professor. “It meant being able to be self-supporting and to do things other people had previously denied us. This generation has never been in that situation. They don’t know what it’s like to have people say, ‘You’re a woman; you’re not a real lawyer.’ They don’t have that sense of endangerment.”
And maybe that’s what empowers them to make brave new choices. “These women are not willing to give up the home front. They are saying, I don’t want to endanger my relationship with my children,” observes Schwartz. “They still have careers that please them, and they have more time with their kids.”
The motherhood bar
These days, “more time with the kids” no longer means reading them a sweet Shel Silverstein verse before letting them loose on the backyard play set. Let’s face it: Gen X has taken motherhood to a whole new level.
Today’s moms — pumping breast milk in the office, preparing organic baby food from scratch and standing in predawn lines to get their newborns on preschool waitlists — often hold themselves to Herculean standards.
“There are enormous amounts of ‘should’ on mothers,” says life coach Margie Warrell, author of Find Your Courage. “You should have them in art class; you should expose them to another language; they should swim by 4 and read by 5.”
Which is, of course, one more reason women like Allison Nelson look to replace linear career tracks with more pliable, more autonomous alternatives.
Nelson, after earning an M.B.A. from Harvard, worked as a management consultant and technology executive in San Francisco. Then her first child, Sam, was born.
“I decided I couldn’t do it anymore; I felt like I wasn’t being a good mom,” she says. “Something needed to give.”
Nelson, along with a former classmate, launched Bookmarks, a bimonthly magazine that ranks and reviews books. The magazine took off.
After a move to Seattle with her husband and two children, Nelson, along with yet another Harvard Business School grad, decided to embark upon her next venture. The Local Vine, a Seattle wine bar, opened last month.
“Having your own business doesn’t solve things when it comes to the number of hours you spend on it. But it helps with flexibility,” says Nelson, who is now single. “I can decide where my meetings are. I can cancel a meeting. I can work at night from home after my kids go to sleep. And I can take them to school.”
That so many of these mamapreneurs have devised ways to combine their new enterprises with family life is an extraordinary testament to technology. “This is the time in history where it’s possible for women to have children and work from home,” says Mischelle Davis. “There are online tools such as community message boards, shopping card services, teleconferencing and more. You can start your business from a laptop in your kitchen.”
Bellevue resident Elizabeth Fukutomi began Dizzy’s Tumblebus five years ago, after finding that her job as a consultant “wasn’t good for my family.” Although she now uses an outside office, she began the business in her dining room. “If it weren’t for the Internet and email, it wouldn’t be close to the same,” she says. “I can draft 10 emails after the kids are in bed.”
Flexibility. Balance. Wine bars, Web sites, Tumblebuses and bamboo baby blankets. We’re witnessing a re-invention of what defines a “working mother.” And Sally Narodick, trailblazer and entrepreneur extraordinaire, welcomes that new paradigm. “I don’t see these young women reeling against the system,” notes Narodick. “They are looking for a meaningful use of their intellect that will give them other things as well. They seem happier. I think it’s maybe a better place to be.”
Linda Morgan is ParentMap’s associate editor.
The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business, by Julie Lenzer Kirk
The Motherhood Manifesto, by Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner
Mompreneurs: A Mother’s Practical Step by Step Guide to Work at Home Success, by Patricia Cobe and Ellen Parlapiano
Ladies Who Launch: Embracing Entrepreneurship & Creativity as a Lifestyle, by Victoria Colligan, Beth Schoenfeldt, and Amy Swift
Secrets of Millionaire Moms, by Tamara Monosoff
Perfect Madness, by Judith Warner