The early 2000s saw the rise of the yummy mummy. Wholly dedicated to all things baby, bib and bugaboo, but with a yoga-toned body and the latest it-changing bag slung across the shoulder where other mums sported baby puke.
In the last five years, the yummy mummy’s business-minded sister has entered the scene: the mumpreneur. Like the yummy mummy, the mumpreneur is 100% committed to a home-centred version of motherhood. Unlike the yummy mummy, the mumpreneur has not given up her identity as a working woman. But because corporate careers are still difficult to reconcile with baby yoga and toddler swimming she has set up a business that is, literally and metaphorically, closer to home: cupcake decorating classes, personalised bunting, a toy comparison site and a French-speaking nanny agency are just some of the many examples from the business directory on mumpreneuruk.com. Run from home and requiring little start-up investments, such lifestyle businesses are promoted as perfect opportunities for combining motherhood and work.
The good news – if one believes in the merits of a diverse world of business and work – is that mumpreneurs are economically active. Their home may be their business base but they are not 1950s housewives who are dependent on a spouse. Mumpreneurship is not the same as opting out, as Pamela Stone has termed professional women’s decision to leave corporate careers in favour of full-time motherhood. Stone’s interviewees became disillusioned, angry and weary when the double shift office/home led not to the next step on the career ladder, but onto the unrewarding mummy track. Mumpreneurship, on the contrary, is presented as an empowering, positive move towards a better work-life balance. And for the individual woman that may very well be the case. Moreover, starting any business while holding a baby is certainly an achievement not to be sniffed at.
But here come the bad news: as empowering as mumpreneurship may feel for the individual business woman, it is unlikely to do female entrepreneurs any favours. Female-owned businesses differ from men’s businesses in important aspects: they tend to be smaller, customer-oriented and human capital-intensive; they are more likely to be run part-time and from home; they typically have lower levels of overall capitalization and lower ratios of debt finance and they are much less likely to use private equity or venture capital. It is because of those characteristics, entrepreneurship researchers such as Sara Carter and colleagues have argued that women entrepreneurs are perceived as less successful and thus as less attractive for investors, clients and collaborators.
Mumpreneurship as it presents itself in the current discourse emphasises exactly this image of female entrepreneurship. An activity somewhere between pastime and paid domestic labour, drawing on traditional housewifery skills and focused on cooking, caring, decorating and hosting. Done from home and for the home while male entrepreneurs run businesses that really shape society. And because women’s work in and from the home, whether paid or unpaid, is valued less than men’s, the cupcake-centred version of mumpreneurship emphasises women’s business not only as different from that of men, but also as less valuable to society.
Promoting mumpreneurship does thus not mean promoting female empowerment. It means stigmatising women’s entrepreneurial activity in ways that are detrimental to gender equality. It also points discussions about entrepreneurship in the wrong direction: the global financial crisis should have once and for all taught us to focus on the ethics or sustainability of an enterprise, not on its gender.