I kind of feel like I'm on a treadmill that is going slightly too fast. Unfortunately, I can't get off. I guess I have what you can technically call “a career”. When I graduated from business school 15 years ago, I went to work on Wall Street and became an investment banker. In retrospect, it was a pretty stupid choice. My parents had always wanted me to become an estates and trusts attorney. Estates and trusts attorneys have some flexibility. Bankers – not so much. For the first 10 years of my career, I worked my butt off and climbed the ranks. Then it happened. I met my husband, got married and had children. All of a sudden, my priorities changed. The more work demanded my time, the less time I wanted to spend at work. That's when I felt the treadmill start. Every time I left the office early – I felt stress. Every time I had a pediatrician appointment – I felt stress. Preschool interviews – stress. Then came the biggest stress of all. In late 2008, when I was pregnant with my second child, my husband's bank declared bankruptcy.
I met my very best friend Kim in business school. Having spent her pre-MBA years in institutional equity sales, Kim stayed true to the course and became a career financier.
Kim, like me, worked hard to climb the ranks. She gave birth to her first child in the fall of 2008 just as the markets were collapsing. Are you seeing a pattern here?
Picture Kim. She returns to work after maternity leave – markets melting down, firm imploding, pumping in the “sick room”, helping care for a mother-in-law who is loosing a battle with breast cancer. As far as years go, we can confidently say – 2009 and 20010 were not terrific for either of us.
Flex-Time? Part-Time? What are my Options?
Fast-forward 9-months, the economy is still in disarray and Kim's plan of going part-time post baby went out the window with the economy. After helping close the San Francisco office of her hedge fund and working through her family’s sorrow, Kim is now at home. She is starting to feel isolated, undervalued and underutilized. She wants to do something, but the idea of going back into full-time finance and “proving herself” at a new firm does not sound appealing. Although we both search, we can't seem to find any part-time, flexible opportunities that fit with either of our backgrounds on either coast. I encourage her to stay home and start something of her own; I reaffirm that managing a 60-80 hour work week while juggling 2 young children is proving to be more than I can handle. The only good news is that my husband has found another job.
Good Idea, Failure to Launch
Kim has some ideas. She wants to start a company that makes affordable children's murals. We talk it through for a couple of weeks but then I get really busy at work and loose interest/focus (truthfully I can't remember). Kim works with the idea herself for the next 6-months. She does a tremendous amount of research but can't seem to make the appropriate connections to get the project off the ground. She begins to realize that starting a business alone is extremely challenging. When I speak to her she seems to be spending less and less time on her idea and more and more time at the grocery store. She starts to drift.
Celebrating and Promoting Female Entrepreneurship
I start thinking about our respective situations more seriously. We discuss (because we discuss everything) and recognize that 1) working full time 60-80 hours a week with two young children is probably not sustainable long-term; 2) bored and unfulfilled mommy is also not such a great alternative. Then it occurs to us – maybe we are not the only ones who are looking for increased flexibility and work/life balance. We start researching why so many achieved and educated women are choosing to leave the traditional (i.e. Fortune 500) workplace? Why are so many of these women turning to entrepreneurship? What are some of the biggest obstacles that female entrepreneurs face?
What is Project Eve?
Hmmmm. Women like to talk things through, to ask questions, to discuss, to validate, and most importantly to help each other (at least the women that we like). Helping feels good. We ask questions and help our friends make difficult decisions all the time – When do I need to take Addison to a pediatric dentist? Do you know a good babysitter? Can you help me design the invitations for my daughter's birthday party? – you are so good with that type of stuff!
We start thinking…what if there was a way to connect these isolated women and create a safe, positive forum to discuss and develop their ideas. What if we were able to connect women across industries and geographies who would be willing to share their expertise and knowledge.
Then it hits us! If we could create a trusted community of like-minded women who wanted to see each other succeed, we could help more women-owned businesses and solopreneurs grow and thrive. We could build a social network where a woman starting a new children's clothing line in St. Louis could hire an ex-ad exec in LA to help develop a branding strategy. We could build a forum where an aspiring caterer could inquire about the benefits of renting a commerical kitchen. Where a start-up or solopreneur could hire a part-time web designer? a blogger? a grant-writer? an accountant?
And so she is born. Eve. Our project, our business, our attempt to build a supportive community of fabulous women who together will help redefine the traditional workplace.
The more women celebrate, support, promote and employ each other, the more successful, happy and financially independent we will all be.