Lets say youre a woman of a certain age and youre seeking funding for your startup from a Venture Capital firm. You don a skirt, heels and mascara and knock at the VCs door. Somewhere during the conversation he “slips in” a question about your marital or reproductive status. The investor asks about what happens when you decide to have kids.
If the question of reproduction seems an inappropriate one for a VC meeting, you might be right. One person interviewed said, “On a pure legal level, it isn’t appropriate. However, women entrepreneurs need to realize that doing a startup is different from taking a job. Entrepreneurs make sacrifices, get on the hamster wheel. Investors expect that commitment from you, regardless of any life issues. I’ve seen people miss their parents’ funerals.
While you may not have to miss your mothers funeral to become an entrepreneur, you do have to make choices about how you structure your life. Back when you had a 9-5, a 401k and maternity leave, you didnt have to think about how your employees, investors and customer base would respond to you leaving to give birth. An employer would be breaking the law to ask. With VC money, its a different story. Is it a good idea for VCs and angel investors to ask before deciding to fund your company?
Paul Roales of Pearl Street Venture Funds has a different answer to the question: passion. At his firm, they look for people who live, eat and breathe their company. Passion that is very unlikely to be changed by a change at home, be that divorce, marriage, kids, [a] new house. Does starting a family change your life? Its undeniable. Should it be a barrier to entry when seeking funding? Thats a different question.
Lindsay Yaw, founder and CEO of BeThree.com, expresses her anger at a potential investors remarks after a meeting, he leaned over and said, youre engaged to be married, right? Right, I said. He continued, What happens when you want to have kids and not work full time? What will happen to the business then, will it just fizzle out? Yeah, dude, Im going to flush the zillion hours, two home equity loans, and a lifetime supply of grey hairs it took to build this thing….just so I can play gaga with a two year old.
Yaw is in her twenties and has more focus, charisma and drive than many of the men Ive met in their mid-twenties starting companies. Were any of them asked about their reproductive status? A woman is fifty percent responsible when a couple has a baby. Ostensibly, the other fifty is the man. Ive never heard of a man being asked whether he plans to start a family and whether hed blow his opportunity at entrepreneurship to do so, but its never as clear cut as that.
For those women thinking of starting a family that are seeking investment, a few pointers:
-Have a response (to the baby question) in mind when approaching investors.
-Know yourself. Know your desires for family (or not). Be transparent about it to the degree to which youre comfortable.
-Have some witty comebacks if things do get too personal. Interactive Developer Sara Czyzewicz suggests you retort with, we’ll have another employee on board! Two small helping hands.
Humor, honesty and self-knowledge. Armed with those three qualities, regardless of your marital or reproductive status, is there anything you cant accomplish in life? After speaking with a dozen successful entrepreneurs about the issue, the bottom line seems to be this: if this question is a deal breaker for the potential investor, perhaps they arent the right investor for your company. Be willing to accept that and keep looking for the right fit. Youll be glad you did.