Why All Feminists Should Start a Business This Year (Part 1)
I know what you might be thinking. You might not see yourself as an entrepreneur. Maybe you enjoy your corporate career and wouldn't trade it in for a million years. Or maybe you're a creative soul, an artist or writer, and "business" is just some category in which you don't define yourself.
All of that is fine! It's great. And it doesn't impact what I'm about to say at all.
So let me clarify what I mean by “starting your own business.”
Business: The umbrella term
In my world, starting a business is an expansive phrase that encompasses the following:
Working on a side hustle in the hours before and after work, or on weekends
Cultivating a hobby and then turning that hobby into something that generates economic value
Building a creative outlet for yourself, with potential financial upside
Taking on independent consulting clients
Becoming an adviser to other companies or individuals
Building a reputation as a public speaker, content creator, or influencer
What these pursuits all have in common is that they add creative and economic value to your life and others' lives in a way that does not involve your employer.
I like to think of employers as middlemen between the labor you contribute and the compensation you receive. The problem with relying on middlemen is that once they're removed from the equation, there are no default structures in place that allow you to continue adding value to the economy on your own and getting compensated in return.
It's not that you won't have the same exact skills and experience as you did at your full-time job. It's just that -- unless you've already started your business -- you won't have built the systems and network you need to support a career that doesn't involve an institution.
I think that's a career gamble, so I'm going to offer two perspectives on why starting your own business this year is one of the best things you can do for your future:
the "Minimize downside" perspective
Starting your own business means that you are no longer reliant on an employer in order to earn money. It's one of the most liberating things you can experience.
We all know that the corporate world as it exists today does not serve women well. I don't have to tell you that U.S. maternity leave policies worsen the wage gap, which already sits at a shamely $0.78 to the dollar. The New York Times reminds us:
In the United States, a study by Census Bureau researchers found that between two years before the birth of a couple’s first child and a year after, the earnings gap between opposite-sex spouses doubles. The gap continues to grow for the next five years. Two studies of college-educated women in the United States found that they made almost as much as men until ages 26 to 33, when many women have children. By age 45, they made 55 percent as much as men.
And that's if women survive the #MeToo culture of sexual harassment that might very well curtail their career prospects even before children.
Do you have a plan in place if you want children, but your employer denies you the weeks of maternity leave that you need What will you do if you get sexually harassed at work, and your HR department doesn't act on it?
Starting a business, even if that means working with a few independent consulting clients per year, means that you're diversifying your income. It's a safeguard not only against layoffs and economic downturns, but against the sexism that infects corporate cultures.
For me, starting a business as a feminist is about so much more than just my own career. It's also about redefining the institutions that have held women back for centuries (and that’s exactly what I’m going to address in part two of this series!).
The "maximize upside" Perspective
Being an entrepreneur and an employee are not mutually exclusive. You can be an employee while still cultivating your entrepreneurial pursuits outside of traditional work hours. So in addition to minimizing the downside of working for one institution alone, you maximizing your own potential by investing in new skills sets, fresh relationships, and career opportunities.
Beyond that, entrepreneurship and freelancing are the future of work. If you've heard of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, you might know that each year its partner Mary Meeker produces a report on the state of the Internet. In her 2018 version, a whole section of the report focused on the accelerating growth of the freelance economy. This was unprecedented. (Check out the slideshow below to see what I'm talking about!)
Flexible, on-demand labor is going to dominate the workforce. By 2020, which is only eighteen months away, 50% of the U.S. labor force will be filing 1099's, the tax form for independent contractors. That means that 50% of U.S. workers will be earning money through some kind of freelance work. If you’re not open to freelancing or experimenting with other forms of self-employment in your area of expertise, you're leaving money on the table for less qualified (and probably male) consultants to pocket. And who wants that?