There are two equally prevalent yet contradictory myths about entrepreneurship, and a recent report from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation touches on both of them:

  • Entrepreneurship is all-encompassing. Entrepreneurs work crazy hours.
  • Compared to a corporate job, entrepreneurship offers better work-life balance, better working hours, and more control of one's time.

In light of these attitudes, the Kauffman report first looks at how the deck is stacked against mothers who want to start their own businesses, and then looks at policy solutions that could make it as easy (or difficult, depending on how you look at it) for mothers to start new businesses as it is for fathers. Chief among them: Paid leave for new parents.

In the U.S., paid leave, when someone manages to get it, is funded mostly by employers. That would seem to make paid leave tangential to the issue of entrepreneurship for women. But in Europe, it's common for paid leave to be provided by governments, not employers. And, of course, the U.S. is the only industrialized country that does not offer paid leave to new mothers.

Why It's So Hard For Mothers to Start Businesses 

The report looks at the social and cultural factors that make it hard for women to advance in their careers, or to become entrepreneurs, after they have children. Some of the less-appreciated research findings mentioned in the report:

  1. In dual-income families, when men work longer hours, women are more likely to leave their jobs. When a woman works longer hours, "there is no effect on the likelihood of her partner leaving his job."
  2. More than 40 percent of working mothers have reduced their hours for family-related reasons, compared to 28 percent of fathers
  3. Women with PhDs in STEM fields are significantly less likely to become entrepreneurs if they have a child under the age of two. But being a father to a young child makes no significant difference in the likelihood of male STEM PhDs becoming entrepreneurs.
  4. In businesses started by married men, 60 percent of spouses take on some sort of support role in the business. This is the case in only 35 percent of businesses started by married women.
  5. Business mentors are often older men who don't have a first-hand understanding of the challenges faced by women who start companies

In light of these statistics, paid leave becomes of high importance. "Establishing parental leave policies that promote work-life balance and are on par with the rest of the established world is necessary to create equitable opportunities for new mothers and fathers," says the report.

The city of San Francisco, the report says, provides six weeks of fully paid leave to new parents. The state of California now provides 55 percent of new parents' wages for six weeks, and the state of New York plans to provide employees with 50 percent of their wages for eight weeks.

Another of the report's recommendations is to "restructure work expectations." It's not clear exactly how this could happen, especially given the macho culture of high-growth entrepreneurship that deems unreasonable work hours a badge of honor. One answer might come in the form of increased productivity. Americans that work full-time, the report says, put in an average of 47 hours a week. But hour-for-hour, Norwegians are the most productive country in the world, working an average of just 33 hours a week.

While it's easy for "work smarter, not harder" to seem like a platitude, it's common for parents to say they've learned to do just that since the birth of a child. It's just rare to find a boss or investor who believes it.