If you are a spouse, co-parent, close friend or family member of an Indigenous woman entrepreneur; you need to read this.
March 25th & 26th I had the privilege of speaking at the annual AWBEN (Aboriginal Women's Business Entrepreneurship Network) gathering in Gatineau, Quebec. The Native Women's Association of Canada brought together dozens of Indigenous women from across Canada with the goal of economic prosperity for themselves, their families and communities.
These women are students, mothers, grandmothers, multi-taskers, innovators, managers; and human. In low-key fashion I made mental notes during panel discussions and intimate table conversations of the amount of times I heard the question "How do you manage it all?!" in one form or another, women asked each other. While being surrounded by fellow Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs and feeling reaffirmed that difficulty in balancing a home life and business life wasn't just me; the number of times I heard the response "I'm not." was less reassuring.
I was anxious about addressing this article title with the term “mental health” as I believe that the term is limiting to what I am hoping to convey here. However entrepreneurs and working women are demographics that are notorious for putting their mental health second to business and family, respectively. To combine the two demographics in Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs is practically exacerbating the situation!
For our parents and grandparents generations, a steady pay cheque and a stable job was the result of a strong work ethic. For millenials and beyond it has become somewhat of a unicorn as even with a good education & apprenticeships we are not guaranteed employability in our fields (Baby-boomers aren't retiring fast enough with nearly 1/3 still paying off debts and 56% of Gen-X is delaying retiring as their strategy for building their savings). The truth of the employment crisis becomes exponential if you are making a choice to live in an Indigenous community. Lack of opportunity is pressuring Indigenous women to leave their communities to seek employment.
Work is work; but only when its paid for.
This idea can be exacerbated by those close to us who are on the outside looking in; watching an entrepreneur grow their business idea. It is even more so when you are the woman head of a family. What about managing a household? Everybody’s laundry and dishes? Everyone else’s school, work & social commitments on top of yours? Many conversations at AWBEN turned to this idea that Indigenous women are becoming stressed because the best time to have a start-up business in life, where your life experience and business acumen coellese is also the same time a woman is usually managing a home life (If you’re an entrepreneur and a parent who has been told you require a 9-to-5’er because dreams and reality don’t mix, I’d love to hear your story in the comments below. Men too; I see you! <3). We already hear time and again that businesses take time to develop; expect years to not be paid a consistent salary (or a salary at all!).
I’m hard pressed to find a stay-at-home-mom that isn’t always finding ways to incorporate additional income into her life; most families can’t live without it.
Entrepreneurship is the result, for many of us, of needing an income and fulfilling a passion. At-home childcare is becoming more economical than having 2-incomes and paying for daycare for multiple children. But still life with 1 source-income is not enough. Even with many Indigenous families pursuing employment off-reserve, as of 2015 nearly twice as many First Nations' owned business were located off-reserve as opposed to on-reserve.
Last year Forbes magazine published 2 relevant articles, one that identifies the mental health challenges faced by today’s entrepreneur-types, and another on how female founders work on their mental health and provide The Self-Care Tips. Megan Bruneau for Forbes identifies 7 ways entrepreneurs are vulnerable in the area of mental health. Those include:
Stress- lack of self-care to manage said stress
Uncertainty- hiding our anxiety about income security from others
Social isolation- the depression connected to removing ourselves from our social circles when they do not understand our choice to start a business.
"impression management" -Hiding behind a persona that we “have all the answers” when we really don’t
Barriers to mental health resources- entrepreneurs tend to not have health coverage that covers mental health
Predisposition to mental health challenges- many of the qualities that make us innovators have the same roots as our traumas i.e. “adaptiveness vs. PTSD”
Identity and self-worth become fused with our company
Some of Bruneau’s points resonated with me in that my perspective as an Indigenous Woman Entrepreneur, these mental health challenges are already underlined as barriers that we face simply by being Indigenous and female. The key take-away is identifying that these points/barriers exist, acknowledge that they are not created by our identities, and to find a place on the proverbial shelf to put them so we can move forward.
What can I do to support the Indigenous Women Entrepreneur in my life?
For those of you who got this far into my article that this question is relevant to; I’m so proud of you! There are too many instances I have conversations with Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs about what you can do and while their desires make their way to MY ears, I have this distinct feeling she is avoiding the conversation with you (just an impression; I don’t pretend to know your life). I have 5 key ways that you can help. This list is going to sound a little self-centred with respect to the Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs in your life. Before I begin, I want to apologize for that, but I need you to be clear on these points. Remember that if you don’t help her with these things she is going to be managing them alone. So, do the right thing and manage them together!:
Respect the entrepreneurial process: Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs have dreams of bringing home meaningful income to support their families. Her journey isn’t about her; it’s about you. Start-ups are hard work and take time. This “time” includes all the time committed to family & friends. If you love her and understand that her dreams include you, take the time to cook your own dinner tonight if she has to take that business call. She’ll cook tomorrow; don’t worry!
Communicate the things you don’t understand: If you ask her why she needs to come home late; or brings work home with her and she has about 15 reasons that she spews out in under a minute, that’s how you can tell it’s important to her. Indigenous Women Entrepreneurs are passionate about their work and will communicate everything to you if she knows you are going to be receptive to her answers. The key is working through conversations until you understand each other’s perspective; otherwise it’s just an argument. Nobody wants that.
She is a multi-tasker but help her complete the smaller tasks: If she didn’t get to washing the dishes, or you’re wondering why laundry didn’t get done this week; give her a hand!! Women don’t leave clothes on the floor because they think it’s fun; they do it because it’s the lower priority that minute.
Force her to schedule in some self-care: This is the weirdest yet most important task I am assigning you. You’re going to say, “I booked you a massage” or “Why not go get your nails done?” and she’s going to get mad! Really. Why would a woman get mad at a massage?!? The truth is this: the massage is not the problem, her ability to trust someone else with her task-schedule for a minute is the problem. When she realizes she can trust you with the kids for an hour, she’ll ease up a bit. I feel weird about asking you to take some metaphorical punches when asking her to take a break, but her mental health is important. Women have a terrible habit of feeling guilty when they take any time at all to take care of themselves. Make her take time.
She needs more time with you too: You’re both busy; I get it. We all are and it’s important to be on the same page about committing time together and sticking to that commitment. If she's gotten to the point where she is too busy to go on that dinner-date, or you feel like she isn’t managing enough time with the kids into her schedule, remember that she feels like she’s missing out too. Schedules are crucial. Go over a physical calendar until you both see how your busy schedules will work together and make a commitment to it!
Buy her some flowers: Okay, I gave you a bonus point. This list is in no way exhaustive on what you can do to help support her. The best list is the one you two work on yourselves. Just remember that entrepreneurship is a journey and the best journies are the ones we do together.
- This is for the men; I see you. Okay, why did she say "5 Ways" and there are 7?! I just know how much you all love bonuses; that's all. I just want to point out that many of my points can work vice-versa. Men do not get asked enough about their mental health. They are the protectors, are expected to be strong and sometimes are suffering for it. If you have a chance to support our men in fulfilling their dreams too, remember that supporting them is making our communities better too. <3