Individual entrepreneurship, work-life balance and self-realization

The working paper written by Fanni Bobák, Réka Geambaşu, Zsuzsa Radnai and Virág Zsár entitled Female entrepreneurs – women in enterprises: Motivation, work-life balance, and challenges focuses on two issues: (1) what factors motivate women to start their own business (2) what strategies they apply to establish work-life balance. The research was based on interviews carried out with Hungarian female entrepreneurs. The paper was published in the frame of the HETFA Working Paper series.

The research was based on 14 semi-structured interviews – half of them with women who lead family businesses. We involved female entrepreneurs into the research who met the following criteria: (1) their income comes from her own (or family’s) business in at least 50 percent, (2) they spend at least 10 hours per week with leading the enterprise; (3) they have at least 5 years of entrepreneurial experience and (4) their business falls into the SME category. Interviewees were selected with special attention to their business’s location and sector, marital status, as well as their age.

Hard work but it is worth it

Creating balance between work and private life is a key issue for most women. No matter to what extent differences with regard to the status, duties and possibilities of men and women are blurred, it is general that women have the dominant role in child-rearing and family life.

Women entrepreneurs start their own business first and foremost to gain the flexibility and independence that is hard to attain as employees – partly in professional self-realization, partly in lavishing between work and other areas of life. According to the interviewees, work-family balance can be realized but only through hard work.

A woman can organize her schedule better as an entrepreneur than as a full-timework employee; however, this is far from the sufficient solution. Much depends on whom she can rely on, what tasks she is able to entrust to others.

It has to be accepted that a person cannot devote time to anything; it is inevitable to prioritize – emphasize the interviewees. For instance, housework can be outsourced in the easiest way.“We employ a cleaning lady, because we quickly realized that we need one. I used to say that a cleaning lady is an investment for a female entrepreneur, because she can earn much more money when she deals with her job as if she is thinking of cleaning.” underline done of the interviewees.

In some cases the husband assumes a bigger role in housekeeping. “I could only imagine a person by my side who did not categorize work as being female or male, because. Our life is made up of tasks: buying, dealing with administrative tasks (post, bill, etc.), cooking, washing, cleaning. If these are not done by two people, then I do think it cannot be done at all.”confirmed another female entrepreneur.

All women need the support of the family, and particularly the support of the husband. It does not mean simply sharing the housework: appreciation and understanding worth more than anything according to one of the interviewees “It gives me strength that he is always by my side.”

Although the traditional female-male division of labour is far less prevalent in the family of female entrepreneurs on their own admission, in most cases the central role of family management is played by women. With or without an enterprise, they basically do not give it out of their hands. Just like child rearing – they pass duties relating to the children on to others in the rarest case.

In this field, the usual division of roles is retained: most of the child rearing is left to the mother, e.g. she is the one who studies with the child or who attends the parent’s meetings in school. Career should not overwhelm the family – the goal is to keep time and energy for both.”I did not want to give up my family anyway, I do think that for a woman her family is the first, and she should try to balance between work and family without giving up herself. I believe that it is indispensable to comply with the two. Women have to work really hard in this regard so that everything goes smoothly.” highlighted one interviewee.

In addition to the support of the family, reliable colleagues also lift a heavy burden from female entrepreneurs’ shoulders. They not only move the business forward, but also allow women to spend more time and energy on their family.

Starting from crash or getting engaged by necessity

Striving for work-family balance is a core motivation but it is not the decisive one. Determined entrepreneurial intentions or exigency are the crucial drive to start a business. Some interviewees have consciously prepared for launching the business: the desire of self-realization, even if it poses a risk, was evolved early in their life.“I always wanted more. (…) There was no argument against starting the business, we had faith in ourselves. I felt that we had all the necessary knowledge and the financial background, and we really wanted to do what we would like to.”

For interviewees entrepreneurship was solution in a critical situation. Some of them lost her job due to the regime change in early ‘90s, or due to the crisis in 2008. Some of them could not find a job after maternity leave and it forced them to start her own business. “My daughter was born in 1993 and during maternity leave I was faced with the fact that I would not be able to go back (to my former job). Fortunately, I did not become unemployed (…) But there was my child, and I knew our financial background so I had no choice.”

In a few cases, women have taken over and continued the family business under the pressure of the family and in accordance with their parents’ expectations – mainly because of the disinterest or lack of a male child.

Different situations frame different stories and motivations. People above 50 having launched their business before or directly after the regime change in early ‘90s mainly referred to reasons beyond their control. Younger people who started their business nowadays were more conscious to prepare to entrepreneurship – for them this is the way to achieve their goals. This ‘self-made’ generation is more courageous to find its own way, even if new ground is needed to be broken.

Creating your own world

Both early pressure driven and contemporary self-conscious business women have a committed desire to prove that they can break through the particular glass ceilings. Almost all of them have experienced that women had to work hard for respect.“If you are young, you are a woman it’s very hard to achieve that people take you seriously. (…) When I was sitting at a conference, out of 10 people, 9 were men and I was the only woman.”

As there are no two identical people, there are not two identical stories. However, there is a common feature: they want to find their place in the world and they are brave enough to do for it.