Updated: Mar 22
Claudia Reuter is an executive, board director, podcaster, author, and experienced entrepreneur. In her new book, Yes You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up and Build the Life They Want, she encourages women to become entrepreneurs and take charge.
Q: What was going through your mind when you planned to re-enter the workforce after taking time off for your kids?
I now think a lot of what I experienced wasn't necessarily overt. There are subtle perception issues that women who become mothers face, making it more difficult for them to land positions at the same level. I realized there is a very real ‘Motherhood Penalty’ for all moms, not just moms returning to traditional work.
Some studies show that women who become moms are more likely to be perceived as less reliable and less competent than women without children. Interestingly, men are perceived as more responsible and competent if they have families. I now know, all these years later, that I internalized many of my experiences. I just remember feeling like I was going to have to 'explain away' and apologize for my 'gap' years. It seemed easier to start my own thing than try to re-frame what I thought was a critical decision for my family at that point.
Q: What made you want to write your book, ‘Yes you can: How Women Start Up, Scale Up, and Build The Life They Want’?
While I spent a great deal of time building my company, more of my career progression took place after it was acquired. We were a small organization at the time and then absorbed into a much larger multi-billion dollar organization. I started as a VP and, within two years I was promoted to SVP. I realized that my career progression was a result of many of the leadership skills I developed trying to build my startup. As a startup founder, you get to experience everything that can happen in all departments – marketing, sales, finance, legal, technology, and so on. In very large organizations, it's easy to gain silo-ed experiences, but more challenging to really understand why each department is so critical.
I also noticed, as a hiring manager, that women who were moms were more likely to apologize for any perceived gaps on their resume, while over the years I encountered men who might brag about their time away. So I thought I should write a book that helps people see that entrepreneurship can be a path forward, even if it doesn't result in some sort of an amazing exit, like an IPO. Q: What lessons did you learn while writing your book?
I did a good amount of research, and one of the most interesting things I uncovered was a study that demonstrated that many of unconscious biases and behaviors result from the conditioning we get at a very early age. For example, young girls are rewarded for compliant behavior, while young boys are often ignored for the same compliant behavior, but given attention for minor misbehavior.
This type of conditioning often leads to young women who expect to be praised for good work and who also are reluctant to take risks. While boys are more likely to grow up taking risks and are conditioned to care less about compliant behaviors. Many of the perception issues we face take more to unravel than simply saying things are ‘fair’.
Q: What advice would you give to a woman who wants to take the leap into entrepreneurship?
Start by just going to a quiet place and visualizing what you might want to create. I don't just mean a product, but what is the life you want to be experiencing? Start there and then walk yourself back to today. Go to some local meet-ups or events if you have them in your area, so you can network and meet other people who are curious and ambitious. You can also explore jobs with startups to get a better sense of what it might be like.
Q: You’ve created and also host the podcast, The 43 Percent. Can you tell us the inspiration behind it?
My story is just one example of what's possible, and I think storytelling is a great tool to help people understand what's possible. Several news articles were headlining whether women should ‘lean-in’ or ‘lean-out’ from a seat at the proverbial table in the workplace. I decided it would be great to profile more women about how they were really navigating family and career. While I believe the number has changed – as of recently, approximately 43% of women in the US were stepping away from the workforce at some point – I thought it would be great to get those stories out, and move past what I thought of as a false dichotomy in the press.
Q: Who has been your favorite guest on The 43 Percent?
I really don't have a favorite. Each woman I've been lucky to speak with is amazing. I did think one of my first guests Linda Zecher was really interesting because she didn't step away from the workforce when her son was little, but rather when he was in middle school. She managed to do that and still have a huge career. Her story helped shed light on the idea that parents sometimes have to make choices at multiple points along the way – not just in infancy.
Q: What's your advice to the women entrepreneurs of tomorrow?
Let's take a hard look at the structures that exist today and really question which we want to keep, and which may not be serving us. In the US, women could not get credit without a male co-signer until 1974, but I'm sure many women at the time thought that was totally normal.
Startups are where we've seen some major work disruptions in the last 20 years: casual workplaces, 'bring your dog' to work, unlimited vacation, and so-on. I feel like motherhood is one of the remaining topics even startups haven't addressed. What about childcare? What about kids in the office? Certainly, the coronavirus pandemic is helping people to better understand the challenges that young families in particular face, so let's grab hold of this moment to dig in deeper.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for women who need to step away from their careers in order to raise their families. Entrepreneurship, however, can provide more avenues for women to take charge and shape their lives in a way that works for them. Buy a copy of Yes You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up and Build the Life They Want on Amazon.com and Kindle.