Mindset

What does this year’s UN IWD theme “Women in Leadership” mean for mums in business?

Let’s welcome ‘Maternal Optimism'. It’s 2021 and we all have to show how to live in a world where women can have it all!

5 minutes

By Carrie Kwan

It’s a little known fact that business-owning mothers are a vital part of the Australian economy, but they are often overlooked. The traditional frameworks of business do not cater to the flexibility that working mothers need. Women across the board face workplace inflexibility, unequal pay and ever increasing childcare costs. What changes do we need to make as society as a whole? How do existing labels and language need to be overcome? What support needs to be offered?

In Australia there are over 345,000 business-owning mothers

This represents one sixth of all small businesses, generating income for over half a million Australians and providing role models for their nearly one million Little Co (kiddos). Australian women are founding more businesses than Aussie men (1.9% to 1.2%, ABS) but in 2020 less than 3% of venture capital funding globally was given to women (Crunchbase). 

A key motivator for Australian mothers to look at finding a different path from the traditional corporate career, was flexibility, found a Mums in Business research report completed by EY Sweeny for Mums & Co. The idea of being your own boss is very appealing to many Australian women, in particular young women, but they often lack the confidence, know-how or financial backing to pursue this dream. The report also found that parental responsibility has been a barrier to success  for almost half of Australian mums in business and half of all mums in business found starting a business very challenging. A third started their businesses while on parental leave, one in 10 while pregnant, and six out of 10 new business mums had an infant or toddler. The majority of women are launching  a business in a completely new field and  77% are reporting to be happier as a result of launching their own business.

Woman plays frisbee on beach with teenage boy
Parents are looking for flexibility at work to help balance parenting commitments

As the Co Founder and Managing Director of Mums & Co, I’m an advocate for driving change around flexible working arrangements and entitlements, more investment in women-led ventures, eliminating a culture of guilt (which often surrounds motherhood), fixing the current  childcare accessibility issues and removing the gender pay gap. As leaders we have a role to  play by keeping these conversations on the agenda within the workplace, the media and in government policy.

In this piece I’d like to share some tips on language and how we approach these conversations and juggle the demands throughout our days. I’d like to reframe us to think positively and towards harmony. Here’s a few suggestions.

A shift in language

A societal shift needs to take place in the language used around ambitious working mothers. Ambition should not be seen as a dirty word and an ambitious woman should not be cut down by the infamous tall poppy syndrome. Does being a mother who also works mean you are overcommitted and disorganised, or productive and successful? Is a side hustle viewed as a hobby, or is a business-owning mum respected as a timely entrepreneur? The way in which we choose to use language influences our perceptions and will help to reframe all aspects of life: ambition, livelihood and wellbeing.

At Mums & Co, we label this mumbition: the unapologetic blending of motherhood and ambition.

We’re a movement of business owning women introducing a new language to frame what remarkable women are doing. We share the experiences and stories of women considering, creating and scaling their businesses while raising a family. We all know the saying “you can't be what you can't see” - so we try to make sure our mumbitious movement are seen at every opportunity. By leading by example we hope that other women are inspired to chip away at unconscious bias, starting with how we talk to ourselves and how we talk about each other.

Why is this important?


Because I deeply believe that women shouldn’t have to choose between their families and their careers.

But what is still undeniably challenging for most business owning women is the competing modes and time pressures of the equally demanding tasks of motherhood and business ownership. Promoting a mindset of harmony helps the daily (if not hourly) journey, as we strive through every stage of business and motherhood. It helps identify the areas of where you can ask for introductions and advice - then use your voice to seek expertise and connections from all those around you. 

Woman and child
Find harmony for you and your Little Co

How can this be achieved?


Define your own mumbition and what success means to you. We know traditional business networking opportunities don’t necessarily work for mothers, so don’t worry about rubbing shoulders on the golf course or at the pub if that’s not your thing, use the school gate and everywhere else your life takes you!

Find where you can leverage your networks for business introductions and upskilling opportunities. Business-owning mothers have their own personal goals and are passionate about their product or purpose, but are not necessarily experienced in marketing and business operations. You can find areas to collaborate and share skills, services and products to grow your client base, find coverage in school holidays, and access expertise where you need a guiding hand.

Rely on routines and rituals and set boundaries

Identify transferable skills in managing your business and home life. It’s important to learn to ask for help. Recognise the important role partners, your family and your extended support network play. These people make up your Co. Try mapping your ambition together with your Co as a way to balance your business or career with family. It’s amazing what feedback and insights your Co and kids can bring!

Where can this happen?


Where we know that working mothers often miss out is self care. We are giving and creating, and sometimes we need to take more time and awareness for individual wellbeing. Please view wellbeing as a tool for success and prioritise self-care. Practice kindness and positivity as a mindset. Introduce confident communication styles and learn to curb self-doubt. Self care doesn’t have to be as extravagant as a spa weekend away. It can be as simple as taking a moment to yourself just to breathe.


You are leading by doing.

Our children aren’t suffering.

You are living in the moment.

It’s 2021 and we all have to show how to live in a world where women can have it all!

Let’s welcome ‘Maternal Optimism’, a term coined by US academics Jamie Ladge and Danna Greenberg, who believe there is not enough focus on the joys and opportunities that come from integrating family and work life.

Find your micro moments of harmony, even if it is just a cup of tea, or ray of sunshine on your face. The more joy you will look for the self care and nurturing you will find. I believe that you can do it, I know that you can do it.

Happy International Women’s Day today and everyday. 

About the author

Carrie Kwan is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Mums & Co. She is deeply passionate about inspiring women, particularly mums, to realise success in harmonising their ambition, livelihood and wellbeing. The business movement launched in 2016 is backed by IAG, Australia’s largest general insurer.


A serial entrepreneur Carrie launched Mums & Co while pregnant with her second son. Connect with Carrie via our Member Directory.


Ready to harmonise your ambition, livelihood and wellbeing? Join Australia's most caring business network where you’ll find experts, business advice, a member directory and events. Sign up for a free trial today.


Tags