It’s inarguable that mothers are the backbone of our culture. But when I start daydreaming about starting a family for myself, a bleak reality sets in. Why? I’ve listened to too many moms tell me that their workplaces simply do not support them. There’s short maternity leaves, nowhere at work to breast pump, and inflexible work hours—not to mention sky-high daycare rates.
For mothers of color, discrimination is all too often another part of the equation. When Equal Pay Day comes around, we are constantly reminded that Latinas earn 54 cents on the dollar, Black women earn 63 cents and Native American women earn 57 cents on the dollar compared to their white male counterparts. So some decide to take a risk. More women of color are starting to leave behind their 9 to 5’s to create a career path that will not only support their dreams, but also their families.
According to the 2018 State of Women Owned Businesses report, “while the number of women-owned businesses grew 58% from 2007 to 2018, firms owned by women of color grew at nearly three times that rate (163%).” But what does it actually look like if you’re an entrepreneur while balancing being a mother? How do you reimagine motherhood and working life? I caught up with four entrepreneurial moms of color across different industries to get their insight and tips.
Los Angeles’ Bricia Lopez is co-owner of the James Beard Award-winning Oaxacan restaurant, Guelaguetzla. Founded by her parents in 1994, she runs the acclaimed restaurant with her siblings while co-hosting the podcast Super Mamas and raising her son. Her time is limited, but she feels grateful that as a boss she can be flexible with her schedule.
“For people of color, for people who look like us, I want my son to see himself in me. I want him to see that ‘my mom is following her passion, she’s doing what she loves. That means it’s possible’. I want him to have a hero that isn’t far away,” says Lopez. But Lopez knows that this balance is far from easy. Lopez’s tips?
“Ask for help.”
“Ask for help. We have grown up looking at our mothers doing it all and busting their ass and we feel like we have to be that. My mom raised 4 children and worked with my dad. If my mom did it, why can’t I? But she had help. She had her tias, her mom and her sisters… Don’t be afraid to call a friend. You’re not less of a woman if you have to admit that you’re vulnerable. You are not less of a woman if you tell your friend, I need help. A lot of us want to be that strong woman, and a strong woman is strong enough to know when she needs help.”
Zoila Darton’s ultimate goal for WORD agency is to create spaces for women of color and people of color to gather and make the world a better place. For now, she’s building her firm as a creative and marketing house that represents and collaborates with brands.
As a new mother and boss of her own business, her work never stops. Even on the day she gave birth, “My son was 5 weeks early and I was in the middle of an intense negotiation with a client. I was negotiating in the hospital in the middle of a contraction,” says Darton. She came back from the hospital after her son was born and only took a week off, then went right back to work. “Every day is a new challenge. Whether it’s cleaning the toilet while your baby is screaming and you have a conference call in 10 minutes, or trying to figure out who’s gonna watch your son.” As a recent Los Angeles resident, she’s luckily found Urban Sitter, an online trusted community of nannies and sitters. Along with some security of trusted nannies, she also found a community of mothers who are constantly supporting her. Although she’s encounters difficult times, she welcomes this with positivity. Darton’s tips?
“You’re going to make mistakes, but you can’t have regrets.”
“Be nice to yourself. Understand whatever you did that day was your best. If you feel like you need to do more, then there’s a new day. Everyday, understand that it happened, and that’s it. You can’t put too much pressure on yourself to perform. Find a community of people. Look for mothers who understand your experience and are unapologetically themselves so you can learn and feel inspired by them. And support each other. You’re going to make mistakes, but you can’t have regrets.”
From the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, North Dakota’s Chelsey Luger has grounded herself in advocating for indigenous wellness and health. As a journalist and co-founder of Well For Culture, she aims to tell her community’s stories and inform audiences of color on wellness. Well For Culture was created in 2014 to create content, provide trainings, and educate communities on wellness with an indigenous perspective.”Indigenous communities have lived holistic lifestyles for centuries and generations, we are the experts on wellness in many ways,” says Luger. Realizing that the majority of wellness content catered to a white audience, she wanted to help carve out a space for her community’s voice.
While running Well For Culture, she is also a trainer with the Native Wellness Institute, an organization promoting indigenous health and balancing life as a new mother. Although she’s found it difficult to work from home, she’s developed a strong motivation and capitalizes on the time she has. Her work has also encouraged her to spend more time with her baby, “The communities, companies and people have been supportive of me having my baby with me everywhere I go, I don’t take that for granted. In a lot of different fields it is not welcomed and not OK to take your baby with you,” says Luger. As a wellness professional and a mother, Luger is passionate about changing this culture. “The more of us that get us that get out there and demand to have our babies with us in the workplace, the more normal it will become,” she says. Luger’s tips?
“You have to be extremely passionate about what you’re doing.”
“If you are considering becoming self employed and running your own business, you have to be extremely passionate about what you’re doing or the motivation will not come naturally to you. I think there’s a lot of negative stigma about motherhood and the demands of motherhood, and I like to shy away from that. In my mind, yes, of course it’s a challenge, of course it has its highs and lows. But what in life doesn’t have ups and downs? This negativity makes a lot of women feel like they can’t be a career woman and a mother at the same time. That’s absolutely not the case.”
Paola Mathe knows that when some women of color shop, they need to have a story behind the product. “We need to feel connected because we work so hard. Our money is really important because we aren’t given all of these opportunities,” says Mathe. The proudly Haitian entrepreneur created Fanm Djanm in 2014. First it was a headwrap collection and now the business is a lifestyle and fashion brand.
She learned the art of willpower through her brand and by curating her blog, Finding Paola. Mathe is constantly on the move. As a new mother and boss of her businesses, she didn’t have time for maternity leave. But she does feel very privileged for the help she’s received from her loved ones, “I want to be transparent. I had a really tough pregnancy, and I haven’t been vocal about it. It was a tough time for me and my family. Not only was I able to survive it, but I had so many people to support me. I was surrounded by love. I have such a strong support group, not everyone has that. I’m very privileged in a lot of ways,” says Mathe.
Her daughter has drawn out both a fearlessness and raw honesty in Mathe. As a creative, she feels like she constantly has to be producing, but her daughter is inspiring her to take her time, and that her ideas don’t necessarily have to happen right away. But she is confident that they will happen. Mathe’s tips?
“Fear shouldn’t stand in your way.”
“Fear shouldn’t stand in your way. I know having a child is much more difficult. Just start. Writing out a plan, practicing will help strengthen your chances in starting your business. Think about it over and over. Don’t say you wish, make it stronger. Talk to people surrounding you who support you. I also don’t like giving this type of advice as a person who believes she is privileged. You can’t just say, ‘yes do it’. There are folks who are single mothers, who don’t have family or friends to watch their child. But it is a matter of willpower. It’s a matter of starting, period. I am a big believer in honing your skills, writing the ideas, network, and then you can eventually get somewhere. I don’t think anything is impossible. When you realize you belong because you’ve worked hard for it, why not go for it?”