Just before Christmas, the New York Times published a piece titled, "If Moms Can't Find it, They Invent It." About the time I ran across this piece, a friend and colleague of mine had recently been discussing the ups and downs of women in business, especially moms. It appears that there is an upswing in the last few years of women innovating and connecting through social media as they become fluent on creating their own blogs, brands and marketing those blogs and brands to make money "on the side". We have entered the age of the "mompreneur". This has also "coincided with the rotten economy, so a lot of moms are out of jobs, they're at home with the kids," says mom and inventor Tamara Monosoff, who was featured in the article. As a friend of mine used to say, "If life hands you a lemon, make lemonade." This seems to be Ms. Monosoff's approach, but is this really a liberating business approach for women? With just a quick look, it seems that way. Perhaps women really are busily making lemonade and marketing it online, but looks can be deceiving. When it comes right down to it, how innovative are women really being? Have we really advanced or is the era of the mompreneur a new spin on Tupperware parties and selling Avon?
We tend to think that womanly inventions belong at home, just as this article supports. We tend to think that the world of feminine creativity isn't a money maker. We set up our own sites and communities under the guise of supporting one another, but what we really do is fail to ever compete in the larger marketplace and sell ourselves and our products short. We fear competing in the larger arena of business and so we never jump in. Do we really think it's better to keep our women home, barefoot, pregnant and inventing things like the Kiss-u-Tissue Tube? And who is "keeping" them at home? Are men imposing this kind of oppression or are women willingly playing second fiddle to male entrepreneurs? After all, there is no such thing as a "manpreneur."
There have been many, many woman inventors who have made large and necessary contributions to our society. Their vision didn't stop at marketing to their neighbors or other moms or even women. Did you know that a woman invented the windshield wipers? Did you know great-grandmother and inventor Patricia Billings invented GeoBond, the world's first replacement for asbestos? (And like many grandmothers, she keeps her recipe a secret!) Mom and secretary Bette Nesmith Graham invented Mistake Out (we know it as White Out), which was originally bottled in her garage by her sons and shipped all over the country.
The bar for a woman's success today is simply set too low. When we look at our everyday lives and we see areas of improvement, we must look beyond our role as woman and look at our role as inventor and leader. We have a responsibility to lead with our innovation and creativity. When a man looks at his world, he doesn't look only at his role as father and invent something like the portable man boob for breast feeding babies. He doesn't then market it to other dads on sites designated for dad, created by dads. In fact if he did this I think people would laugh...and not just at the leaking invention hanging off his chest. Many men in our culture have been trained to think BIG. As women, we must do the same. Currently we fear we will fail and we would rather make a splash in a small pool than step into the ocean of the business world and risk being swallowed.
There are many examples of women in the business world, but how many of them have held true to their femininity and their vision as a woman? Who was the last woman to lead like a woman, invent like a leader and envision like a citizen that wants to improve the lives of people everywhere? Google, Yahoo, Ebay, Craigslist, Twitter, StumbleUpon and Facebook were all started by men. Who was the last woman, inventor and thinker that was revered like Steve Jobs?
It's not that women don't have the brain power or the insight or the creativity and imagination to get the job done. In fact women are many times more skilled in these areas than men! The trouble is we don't recognize the enormity of influence that we could have if we simply looked beyond the minutia of the everyday.
Sadly, no one will ever write a million epilogues for Tamara Monosoff upon her death for inventing a device that prevents children from unspooling the toilet paper. The question we must ask ourselves as mothers, women and role models for our daughters is how we want to lead. What impression do we want to leave our society? Would we like to start expressing our greatest ideas or are we happy to sit comfortably in the shadow of men?
The worst thing for a person to feel is that they have arrived when they haven't. When this happens, we stop trying. The truth is women haven't arrived yet. We are just getting started.