Mom and Grandma: The making of an Entrepreneurial Woman


By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

For florists, Mother’s Day is the biggest sale day of the year, bigger even than Valentine’s Day. This is a powerful statement of the value of Mom and her love in our lives. For an entrepreneurial woman, Mother (or Grandmother even) may have provided more than nurturing and support during those difficult growing up years. She may also have served as a role model for female entrepreneurship, even if she operated behind the scenes. This kind of role modeling is often overlooked when entrepreneurs describe their early years and yet it may explain why some girls later become entrepreneurs.

If you are an entrepreneurial woman chances are you have always felt different somehow from your contemporaries. Even as a child you knew that you didn’t quite fit in. Oh yes, you may have had friends and performed well in school, but your thoughts, ideas and behaviors gave you away. You secretly admired the privileges granted the boys. You were a curious, independent-minded, assertive girl. You couldn’t help yourself, even though at times you wished you were more like the others so that you didn’t feel so lonesome and odd.

Nevertheless as an adult you are still different, hopefully with more confidence and pride in those differences. And as you explore entrepreneurship, you finally realize that you have found your niche. For the woman who does not follow the traditional, culturally acceptable path for a female, the going is rough. But the path of entrepreneurship is so rewarding that the hardships are worth it. In fact, entrepreneurship levels out the playing field in some ways for women. If there is a glass ceiling in the corporate world, many women find that the sky’s the limit in self employment. That may be why women-owned business is the fastest growing segment of the self-employed.

Women entrepreneurs do not have the same modeling and clearly defined path to follow that men entrepreneurs have. Women have to look elsewhere for their mentors and guides. Although the research shows that women entrepreneurs are just as motivated as men by achievement needs, desire for independence and the lure of money, they design and run their businesses differently.

With personal relationships as the center of their lives, because it is the way that women define themselves, their businesses reflect this value as well. A woman-owned business is first and foremost an interconnected web of meaningful relationships.

If you are a self employed woman ask yourself where you got your training for entrepreneurship. You may not have entrepreneurship in the family or perhaps only male models. But if you look deeply enough you may find the roots of your entrepreneurial spirit lie closer than you think, perhaps in those meaningful relationships you have had with your mother, your grandmother, an aunt or female close friend of the family. So close to Mother’s Day, perhaps it’s time to honor those women who have helped lay the foundation for your success as a woman entrepreneur.

My Grandmother was one of those important female role models in my life. I loved my Grandma. She made me flannel nighties on her treadle sewing machine. She taught me how to make a quilt by hand. On my birthday she let me help in the kitchen as we created my birthday cake from scratch. She smelled like lavender and wore corsets to trim her waist and support her ample bosom. She was a great hugger. She bought me my first pair of white gloves and taught me the value of being a lady. It was great fun to put on our white gloves, call a taxi and head into town to attend a “show.” I was incredibly proud of my Grandma when I watched her entertain at various social and fund raising functions. She had a one woman show where she sang, whistled, played the piano, and told those humorous Garrison Keilor type of stories in a funny Norwegian accent.

As I think about my entrepreneurial roots, I realize that Grandma had a major role in my growing awareness of myself as a girl, a woman, a scholar and as a self-employed professional.

Not only did Grandma delight me when I was a child, but I realize as an adult that she was a true pioneer. Born at the end of the 19th century, she claimed to be the “first white child” born in Nelson British Columbia. Her life was hard in those early years and to save her family the expense of raising her, she married at age 13. The marriage lasted only a few years and produced two children who died in infancy. Broken hearted Grandma set off for San Francisco to seek her fortune. She worked in a coffee shop, attended business school, and paid her way single-handedly by playing the piano at night in the silent movie houses. But always, she kept her virtue in tact. Being a lady was high on Grandma’s list.

Among the women entrepreneurs that I have had the privilege to know, the values that my Grandma taught me are apparent in them as well. Somehow these women know the importance of balancing their feminine spirit with the confidence and tenacity of making their mark in the world. These women value the qualities of loving relationships that so characterize the female spirit. Yet rugged individualism is not left behind. Rather through relationships with family and friends, women entrepreneurs discover strength to face the challenges, hardships and rewards of the entrepreneurial life.

Thank you to all of those wonderful mothers and grandmothers who paved the way for their girls to grow into entrepreneurial women.