I have to confess there was a time when I would shudder at the the use of the term ‘mumtrepeneur.’ And it wasn’t just the clumsy portmanteau that bothered me, it seemed reductive to attach the achievements of trailblazing women to their parental status, as if they were not equal to their male (or female, childfree) associates.
But, of course, it’s true that they’re not equal at all, and actually to ignore the context in which these women are frequently breaking ground and reaching the top of their game is to do them a huge disservice.
In 2016, official figures confirmed that there are now over 800,000 mothers (of children under 18) running their own business part- or full-time. When you become a parent, financial security seems more important than ever, and the decision to forfeit guaranteed salary, regular shift patterns, pension contributions, sick pay, annual leave and parental leave is not one taken lightly.
Many of these mumtrepeneurs are women who have been pushed out of contracted employment as a direct result of their choice to have children. In spite of the fact that every employee has the right to request flexible working, mums are increasingly feeling that the only way they can continue to use their skillset in the workforce is to go freelance or set up a new business.
The economy still benefits from the experience and skills of these women, without any workers’ rights whatsoever. The think tank Development Economics estimates that in 2014 alone, mumtrepeneurs generated approximately £7.2billion of wealth in this country. Many are running their businesses with zero childcare, further increasing the emotional labour that disproportionately falls on women. Even those with school age children must negotiate thirteen weeks of school holidays per year, plus any unexpected sick days.
Digital technology has enabled mumtrepeneurs to create prosperous and often ground-breaking kitchen table businesses. But it’s not OK that these women have to leave workers’ rights behind in order to find success. The promise of a union being set up to support freelancers is a positive step, but going self-employed has to be a choice, not the only option.
This week is Digital Mums’ #WorkThatWorks Week, urging businesses to champion flexible working for all, highlighting proven benefits to employers such as reduced costs, increased efficiency and staff retention. Anna Whitehouse of Mother Pukka fame is also drawing attention to this issue with her Flex Appeal campaign. On 31st October this year, you stand up and be counted by joining Pregnant Then Screwed’s March of the Mummies.
It’s vital we all back campaigns like this and go out of our way to demand a flexible and supportive workplace culture for all employees, parent or not. You never know when you might need that flexibility, and going self-employed isn’t the right choice for everybody.