Words: Charlotte Philby

Return to work or stay at home? For new mothers the choice was once painfully stark. But for a growing generation of millennial mums, there is a third way, with a new wave of social conditions fuelling the rise of the ‘mumtrepreneur’.

But what is a so-called millenial mum, and what does she mean for the future of the economy? In the most comprehensive study of its kind, the American research paper ‘Marketing to Millennial Moms: How your brand can and should speak to this emerging consumer’, produced by Advertising Intelligence, mothers born between 1980 and 1995 are defined as such. “These women are currently spending $170 billion per year, and projected to spend $200 billion annually starting in 2017, and $10 trillion in their lifetimes,” the paper states.

Focusing on so-called millenial mums as passive consumers, what the report fails to mention is how much these mothers – and future mothers – are worth in the job sector. A question that is starting to emerge as a new generation of women, sidelined by traditional working environments, start to take their skill-sets away from the office to set up shop on their own terms.

Nikki Cochrane is co-founder of Digital Mums, a London-based agency which trains up mothers who want to work from home, in social media, and puts them in contact with agencies in search of remote, part-time employees. “The truth is, despite centuries of perceived social progress, women with children are still massively discriminated against in modern business culture,” she explains. “The UK likes to hold itself up as a bastion of gender equality, but the sad truth is that 60,000 women a year are forced out of their jobs because of being pregnant in this country.

The flexibility and direct access offered by technology, together with thriving networks for women in business are proving a ripe and supportive environment for mothers wanting to go it alone

“Anecdotally,” Cochrane continues, “I’ve heard on an embarrassing number of occasions about women returning to work being stripped of key responsibilities and unofficially removed as a core member of the team. Traditional office working is outdated, backward and systematically discriminates against women with children. It’s a difficult nut to crack, because it’s not just employers that need to change, but our business culture as a whole – and that’s harder to address.”

Research has repeatedly shown that the biggest cultural challenge within business, facing women when returning to the office is rigid working hours, with many mothers struggling to find part-time employment or flexible working that make use of their skills while allowing them to be present in their children’s lives. A new series about women changing their careers after motherhood, launching on Motherland next week illuminates how a number of new mums feel guilty if they do work flexible hours or part-time, fearing resentment from their colleagues.

Their concern is confounded by official figures which show that women working part-time – or those who take time off to have children in the UK – can expect to see their pay ceasing to rise a decade earlier than men. This despite countless studies showing women with kids waste less time while at work, are less likely to be hungover, and moreover produce more work in fewer hours than co-workers who are not juggling children and a career.

Social factors, too, have meant traditional employment is now an unworkable option for many mums, with unaffordable childcare top of the list of prohibitive conditions. Research last year by the Family and Childcare Trust found many parents in Britain were paying more for childcare annually than the average mortgage bill, with the cost of having a two-year-old and a five-year-old child in nursery an estimated £11,700 a year. This, alongside cuts to family benefits and prohibitive house prices, particularly in the South East where young parents are being pushed farther from their places of work, means businesses with more rigid working environments are set to continue losing some of their most productive employees.

Anna Tizard, one half of mumtrepreneur start-up Tiba + Marl

Considering the average cost of raising a child in the UK, from birth to the age of 21, is now around £229,250, it is unsurprising that an increasing number of women feel that if they do go back to work, it has to be a career motivated by a passion for the job.

Anna Tizard, 36 – previously a Senior Bag Buyer at Topshop – is a mother of two. For her, it was the long, inflexible hours, and international travel, which eventually made her job untenable. “A huge part of it was the pressure I put on myself,” she explains. “Before kids I was used to working long hours and having the freedom to stay in the office until I felt I had sufficiently finished my work. Once I’d had my first baby, I felt torn between the awkwardness of being the first person to leave the office, and the maternal desire to rush home and see the baby – and the necessity to be back in time for the nanny.”

Pooling her skills with good friend, and now-business partner, Lydia Barron, the idea for a fashion-focused baby-changing bags TIBA + MARL was born. Launched earlier this month, there was a waiting list for their highly-anticipated first collection, the brand having attracted press from the likes of the Observer and Grazia magazine.

While traditionally the UK has been slower on the uptake, with women in the US twice as likely to be entrepreneurially active as women this side of the Atlantic, according to the 2007 Prowess report ‘State of Women’s Enterprise in the UK’, the tide is beginning to change with women like Sharmadean Reid, founder of WAH nails, and Courtney Adamo, co-founder of globally-acclaimed Babycinno Kids blog, proving what a working mother can really achieve.

Traditionally the UK has been slower on the uptake, with women in the US twice as likely to be entrepreneurially active as women this side of the Atlantic – but the tide is beginning to change

Families are not the only ones benefiting from the independence and possibility for self-growth offered by this strong mumtrepreneurial spirit. It seems that inflexible employers’ loss is also society’s gain, with a 2013 statement by Royal Bank of Scotland stated that boosting female entrepreneurship could deliver approximately £60bn extra to the UK economy.

Meanwhile, for those women who have worked hard to forge their careers and who refuse to be quietly barged out of the boardroom, the incentive to work for yourself has never been stronger. Technology ranging from Skype to smart-phones, make it possible to hold meetings and conduct business while juggling the demands of motherhood. Social media platforms also offer direct access with – and marketing to – your public/potential collaborators/clients. The flexibility and direct access offered by technology, together with thriving networks including Digital Mums, the Step Up Club, which supports women in business, and monthly ‘Business Clubs’ from popular parenting community Mothers Meeting have proved, are proving a ripe and supportive environment for women wanting to go it alone.

Alienor Falconer also left the fashion industry to start her own business, in 2013. Previously women’s footwear product developer at Paul Smith, she launched The Bright Company, producing stylish, high-quality sleepwear for children, and has not looked back: “I love that I work around the children. I’m not missing out on any of their moments, I walk them to school, I see their school plays, their sports days, we get long afternoons on the beach when the sun is shining… Undoubtedly our children will grow up and see their mums being the boss and that is going to have a powerful affect on the tide of the future workforce. I can’t imagine working for someone else now, having to clock in and out, being away from my family so much, the lack of control over your days.”

Check in tomorrow when we launch our series speaking to some of the new faces waving the flag for the mumtrepreneur generation 

@philbycharlotte

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