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How Corona Affects Single Parents and Entrepreneurship

by Weronika Pukrop

Inequality isn’t a new problem – the Corona crisis is just shedding more light on it. Franziska Leonhardt, the Co-Founder of AVE + EDAM, brought up the topic of single parenthood while owning a business and started a very much needed discussion

You spoke up recently about being a single mom and running a business at the same time. Can you tell us more about your situation in the times of Corona?

I talked about it, because I realized how difficult, almost impossible it is to be a single parent and run a business. Suddenly, in the Corona crisis, schools are closed and teaching and taking full care of my child is solely my problem. And it made me realize that I’m not the only one, that there are other single parents, who are having to deal with this situation. When you do talk about these problems, you are usually being perceived as a failure and that you are not stepping up to your duties. That’s why I wanted to bring it up.

What are the biggest challenges that female entrepreneurs are dealing with at the moment?

I think it’s really important to point out that in general women, who dare to try something new and leave their jobs and become an entrepreneur or go other, independent ways, are very strong and brave. Society, as a whole, is not noticing that there are still certain gender roles present, despite females stepping out of these stereotypes and entering high level roles or starting their own businesses. Yet still, there are those expectations of a woman to take care of her child as if it’s only her problem. We are talking publicly about how there should be more females at C-level positions, more board members, more female founders, but what’s their social status? What kind of support are they receiving?

“Still, there are those expectations of a woman to take care of her child as if it’s only her problem”

Some researches show that women are stepping back 30 years, because of the Corona crisis. What is your take on that?

Agree. I was very surprised to read about SAP, saying that a single person leading the company would perform better than a mixed team with two bosses, one of whom is female. This for me was an indication where we, as a society, stand. And actually, this is not something that happened in a crisis. The crisis didn’t create inequality, it is just shedding bright light on it. I think it’s inherent in our society. Let’s say there is a flu and your child is ill – who stays at home? It’s exactly the same thing, it’s just that it’s a one-time event, so no one looked at it that intensely, like we are doing now, during the crisis.

And how do we tackle this? Is there a way to change it?

I’m in a very lucky position to have my family and I usually also have a paid support, but it’s costly. Not everybody can afford this. And there were often times, when if I didn’t have this support, I would probably quit. Because I couldn’t do it alone. It’s just impossible. When we’re talking about change we must, first of all, talk about recognition. Admitting that something is wrong. Instead of asking questions, such as ‘Where are the females in higher positions?’, we need to look into society’s role models, starting already at kindergarten and school. We need to understand that the tasks of a female, as expected from the society, are still different than those of a man. Often in a crisis, we see things in a very condensed and clear way. I’m so used to being a single mom and having all the responsibility on me, but now others are starting to realize that as well. Women are always working with the stigma and so it’s not surprising, that in these times a lot of them didn’t speak up. They wanted to be able to handle it like they always used to handle things. We should say to other women: ‘You are not alone. Others are going through that as well’. To show them that it doesn’t mean that they are weak. We must encourage women talk about those issues if we ever want to change anything.

“The crisis didn’t create inequality, it is just shedding bright light on it”

Is there a support system for women to share their experiences?

Women are shamed for admitting that they cannot deal with something. I got so many direct messages after publishing my LinkedIn post saying ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe someone as strong as you is so weak’. And, of course, I got a lot of people saying that they are so glad that someone as strong as me spoke up, because it made them feel better to admit that they are not coping in this situation. We must go to the root of the cause of why women are not brave or risk-taking enough to become, for example, entrepreneurs. Why is that? Because if you don’t have the support, it’s just simply too scary. And on top of that, there is still a lot of shame and stigma.

There are talks of needing more women in entrepreneurship. But how can they be encouraged to do so, if they see those inequalities?

This is the challenge. It’s really, really hard. First of all, make sure that you are heard and find other like-minded people to discuss solutions. It’s about recognizing that there’s a certain part of our society called single parents and that they are actually doing a lot of the work. It’s not acceptable if someone, who wants to become an entrepreneur is discouraged, because society is forcing them to live a different path. Now there are a lot of programs that have been designed financially for the crisis and they go to big companies, but what about other groups? Who will support them? They have no lobby. And it’s not only single parents, this also concerns young females and males, or any kind of group that is still being stigmatized or is a minority. It’s very tough to include a group of single moms or single dads and become entrepreneurs or step up to take over a C-level job, because how would they manage the expectations that such a job brings with them?

And do you have any advice for other women who are struggling with this at the moment?

First of all, to not be ashamed to talk about those things. And not to think that they’re alone or that they’re not perfect enough. Women must realize that we are much more than what we think. We’re not a small group, we’re just a group that doesn’t speak up. But there has to be a concrete solution, because just putting more females in entrepreneurial roles by giving them extra education won’t help, because right now they don’t even have time to go to the bathroom alone, let alone follow an educational program. Most importantly, the change that I would like to see is more responsibility from both parents in general. When you decide to have a child, it’s a 50/50 job for both parents, whatever gender they may be. Claim your responsibilities, not just financially, but also emotionally. Parenthood doesn’t come with gender.

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