If you did a search for “fireclay” on Google, it’s probable that you would soon be looking at gorgeous, Pinterest-worthy images of farmhouse-chic kitchens. Fireclay is a specific type of material that is growing in popularity in homes across the country because of its durability and resilience. The clay, which is naturally created, is fired at incredibly high temperatures to solidify the material into a trustworthy and beautiful kitchen sink. It often reaches temperatures of over 2,100°F, and in doing so, the clay is transformed from a malleable softness into a resolutely durable material.
Under fire, the clay transforms.
Moms are under fire, and we are transforming.
This past year, the pandemic put moms in a uniquely challenging position. We bore the burden of pandemic-era job losses. We collectively juggled social uprisings, children’s homework and academic schedules, navigated new expectations with teachers and employers. Women left the workforce to balance the demands of family life – in part because that was what we felt we needed to do to keep everyone afloat.
There are myriad articles that explore the return of women to the workforce. But, if I had to make one prediction about the future of women’s work, it’s this: if we keep waiting for corporate America to tell us when women “are back,” we will miss them altogether.
The research I did for my recent book, Expectant Entrepreneur: How to grow a business and a baby, taught me something critical about women. We are like fireclay. Under times of duress and collective panic, we become more resilient and even more durable as economic contributors. But this change doesn’t happen only in our corporate resiliency. It happens in an entirely different manner. It happens through entrepreneurship. As a collective unit, women have historically turned to entrepreneurship as a way to carve their own professional path and support their families on their own terms and their own schedules.
When families were interrupted during World War I, women turned to real estate to find independence and financial vitality. Entrepreneurship ebbs and flows as society demands change, and during World War II, women entered the workforce in a way we, as a nation, hadn’t seen before. And while the history books comment on the replacement of women in the factories when men returned back from the war, there’s another story to tell. It was after WWII that the numbers of female business owners really started to change.
It might be true that women left the traditional workforce, but we didn’t leave our ambitions behind. New avenues of entrepreneurship exploded now that women had a taste of financial independence and contributing to their families in ways outside of childcare. It was marked by the growth in Tupperware parties, Mary Kay sales, knitting, and other domestic-based (work-from-home) positions available to us.
History tells us that women rise up in new and creative ways when our backs are against a wall, and we’ve seen it again and again.
We will do it again now.
I’m neither a historian nor an expert on the women’s workforce. I am a mother, a connected part of my local small business community, and a business owner who loves supporting other women-owned businesses. And what I see every day is women doubling down on their own skill and independence in the form of entrepreneurship. The pandemic made it chillingly apparent that women were only just surviving in the balance of corporate careers and the mother-heavy demands of family life. The result is that we, as women – and specifically women of color – bore the vast majority of the job losses during the pandemic. If we wait for these women to return to the economy through traditional corporate jobs to call it a “recovery,” we will miss the resiliency of women entirely.
Instead, let’s be ready to see thousands of women find a new way to create the life they want through entrepreneurship. There were more than 1,821 net new women-owned businesses every day before the pandemic, and more than 12.3 million women-owned businesses overall in the United States. One out of every three of those businesses is owned by a mother. Black, women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing subset of female entrepreneurs. More than 90% of all women-owned businesses are sole proprietorships.
The women who own these businesses are not hiding away in Silicon Valley or huge metropolitan areas. They’re right here in our Cincinnati community. They are mothers of children at our schools. They are our neighbors, friends, and community leaders.
We must rally behind these women and support them. If you know a woman who is exploring her options and is considering opening her own business, support her. If you are a woman exploring your options through entrepreneurship, give it a try. Find women who can give you feedback, support you, and help you see a path forward. We’re out there, and we’re ready. Join us.