Dubai doesn’t half love a good portmanteau. While ‘edutainment’ is the newest buzzword on the block for all children’s activities in the emirate, the decadent merging of ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’ that we know as ‘brunch’ has practically become its own religion.

But one of the neologisms that seems to divide grammar nerds and business types the most is the word ‘mumpreneur’. Drop it in a sentence like a lexical bomb and watch it split the room: while some bask in the glamorising effect of blending motherhood with entrepreneurship, others balk at a term that can seem to belittle the achievements of business people who would like their professional success to be viewed without the context of their personal lives.

Having first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011, it was invented to describe the growing trend of women who, after having a baby, devised a business or product based on their experience of parenting. It has since evolved to refer to ‘any female entrepreneur who also has children’.

Now that irks a lot of people. Why should a woman’s status as a mother have any bearing on her achievements in business? After all, we don’t talk about ‘dadpreneurs’ do we?

But on the flipside, what’s the harm in a word that effectively communicates this very modern demographic of women who are managing to balance both babies and a business?

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“It’s belittling to women”

Suzanne Browne, co-founder of innovative parenting products brand Clevamama, is one business owner who would rather not be called a mumpreneur – even though her products are based around parenting and aimed at mothers.

“The simple fact is I am a mum and an entrepreneur and yes, I am equally as proud of one as I am the other,” she says. “However, I do find the term Mumpreneur belittling at times.”

Having started in a box room in Suzanne’s house in Ireland, Clevamama has become a huge global success, and its ingenious products are now stocked in major stores throughout Europe, Asia, America, Russia and the Middle East. But if the head of this business were a male entrepreneur, would we feel the need to define him based on his parental status?

“Regardless of whether you have children or not, every single entrepreneur has the same ambitions, challenges and dreams as most others,” says Suzanne. “In my case it’s simply to be as successful as possible in both my personal and professional life.” 

Charlotte Borghesi, owner and director of UAE-based Children’s Oasis Nursery and sister company Kidz Inc, is also not fond of the term. “Does the same exist for men: ‘dadpreneur’? If so would you only be an entrepreneur if you are not a mum or dad?” asks Charlotte. “I think it’s a bit degrading for women; why should mums be segmented and why isn’t entrepreneur a good enough description for a mum?”

For Clevamama’s Suzanne, it’s all part of a system of double standards that can be patronising to women: “I have been referred to as a Mumpreneur by both male and female journalists,” she says. “But the time when I really took a stand was many years ago, when I was asked by a male photographer to sit on the floor and pretend to play with our products like a mother would do with her child. I politely refused and asked, ‘If I was a man would you ask me to pose the same way?’ Let’s just say he turned a very bright shade of red before apologizing profusely. I doubt he made the same mistake ever again.”

And while little scenarios like this might seem harmless enough, could they feed into an inequality that limits women’s potential in the business world? In the Middle East, only 7.6% of women are early-stage entrepreneurs compared with 11.8% of men, according to the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. Although there has been a gradual increase in the number of women running businesses in recent years, the Foundation points out that women entrepreneurs still face considerable barriers on their path to success, including access to financing options, coaching opportunities and networks.

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“It’s a celebration of two big responsibilities”

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However, many other UAE businesswomen are proud to call themselves mumpreneurs, and see it as a way of celebrating two combined achievements, each of which is more impressive because of the other.

Owner of boutique food PR agency Soul Communications (and mum of three), Farah Sawaf says, “Our client and partner, chef and cookery author Annabel Karmel, defined this term as a ‘juggler’. Society didn’t have a term for it, so she came up with a new one.”

The title of Karmel’s 2015 book, Mumpreneur: The Complete Guide to Starting and Running a Successful Business, helped to solidify the term in the public consciousness, while its content sets out to address all of the challenges that many mothers perceive as standing in the way of their entrepreneurial success and dismantles them, one by one. Chapters include, ‘Believe in Yourself’, ‘Master the Juggling Act’ and ‘Persist, Trust Your Instincts and Embrace Your Failures’.

For Karmel, the term is useful for representing the balancing act that’s required to be both a mother and a business owner, and she says she wrote her book to encourage other mums not to limit their aspirations unnecessarily: “Being a mum is the hardest thing and that’s enough for many,” says Karmel. “But some people will not be fulfilled without work and will be horrible full-time mums. I wanted to show them it is possible to do both.”

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Founder of UAE-based childcare service Malaak Mama & Baby Care Lily Kandalaft agrees, and feels passionately that the term ‘mumpreneur’ is complimentary rather than derogatory. “Being an entrepreneur is challenging of course, add to that the responsibility of caring for young children and you now have two big responsibilities,” says Lily. “Time management and agility become your most valuable skill set. Being a ‘mumpreneur’ is very special and the extra challenges that come with it need to be acknowledged and celebrated.”

Seen this way, the blending of the word ‘mum’ with ‘entrepreneur’ is only belittling to entrepreneurs if we don’t think very much of mothers. It’s true we don’t refer to dadpreneurs, but are we yet at a stage where fathers tend to carry the same emotional, mental and practical load as mothers do in the home? Do most male business owners who are also fathers take on enough of the domestic and childcare duties to merit a blending of their titles?

But point scoring isn’t the way to go here. Perhaps instead of picking on the term ‘mumpreneur’, we should be aspiring to yet another portmanteau (sorry, grammar conservatives), that of ‘parentpreneur’, instead?  While it might ring hollow in our current context, it’s conceivable that in a future of shared parental leave and flexible working conditions, society could have progressed to a point where men are equally involved in the domestic front, women are equally likely to be breadwinners, and the concept of parenthood has become egalitarian enough that splicing it with entrepreneurship is seen only as an added achievement, rather than belittling?

Running your own business is an amazing achievement. Raising children is an amazing achievement. Doing both, integrating both into your life and using insights from one to inform the other is impressive, and worthy of recognition. Perhaps once ‘parentpreneur’ has made it into the Oxford English dictionary we will understand that.    

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