Why Women Need to Define Their Own Success | HER Side

By Catherine Ashton


Working Women, Your Success Isn’t Elective. Let’s Stop Pretending It Is

How the “mom boss” movement and the diminishment of women’s accomplishments inspired my “by-women, for-women” business to grow.

When the company I’d founded with my two-month-old daughter asleep on my chest outgrew my capacity to do it all myself, I was incredibly excited to grow my team. This was it! My opportunity to create a “by-women, for-women” company! Fantasies of following in the footsteps of Gravity Payments (renowned for a $70,000 minimum wage) of offering lengthy parental leave and generally creating a kick-ass business culture kept me up at night. I might have been hiring a ten-hour-per-week contract position, but the possibilities were boundless. 


Later I found a company that matched moms who wanted to work from home with businesses looking for talent. I thought I’d hit the jackpot. The company promised a place where women could find vetted, legitimate jobs, an idea in line with my goal to create places where women could bring their whole selves to work! I was inspired. 


Then the owner of the company posted a meme that said “When your goal is to glorify Father God, your view of business changes. Do you make an effort to pray for your business… your family, and your marriage?” In a hot-headed moment I posted a scathing comment and left the closed Facebook group where the meme had been posted. I felt deflated. Diminished. That wasn’t my goal…should it have been, a small voice in my head began to ask. When I became a mother, was my entire identity relegated to the supporting role of mother and wife?


Ultimately, I’m grateful for that meme. It changed how I manage and lead. It forced me to root my work in feminist, anti-racist, and inclusive values and operations, rather in the faux feminism of the “mom-boss culture.”  


Put On Your Big Girl Panties…Really?!

Becoming a parent is a seismic lifestyle shift. It wasn’t just birthing an actual human being, it was being handed a new identity filled with equal parts joy and loneliness. Being a consummate Millennial mother, I turned to the internet for advice, solace, and support — as a mother and an entrepreneur. That’s where I found the “mom boss” who had it all. I read about supermoms who built businesses “without taking the joy out of family life with kids” and who warned that I needed to be positive, inspiring, pretty, and social.  Everywhere I turned, I saw the message that if women worked, it should probably be from home and part-time, so they could take care of their children and family… because isn’t that what all women want?


Except, what if that’s not the life you want? Or not a life you can afford? Starkly missing from the carefully curated, inspirational image of the momtrepreneur is the reality that staying home with one’s children isn’t something that all women want. There are many women who want to choose to work or grow their careers, but have that choice taken from them.  Staying home and leaving the workforce is not an option for many women, and on the flip side millions of women have been forced out of the workforce due to America’s childcare crisis, and the lack of [affordable] childcare is the third most reported reason for not working. 


Are we really going to tell a parent being forced between working and caring for their children that they need to put on their “big girl panties” so we can live the dream of being a “momtrepreneur and providing for our families while taking care of them” (all real quotes found if you look at the #momtrepreneur hashtag on Instagram!). When society insists the only way a woman can be an entrepreneur and mother is staying home and juggling work and children and chores (and according to many, Jesus and husbands too), we aren’t just missing the point. We’re painting all women with one ideology of what motherhood looks like, one that leaves so, so many women behind. 


Success Is Not One-Size-Fits-All

There’s a through line in the #momtrepreneur movement… a (largely white) suburban lifestyle filled with smiling children, a successful husband, and a commitment to a Christian god. I hope that life is fulfilling for women who live it, but it’s not the barometer of success. That’s why a simple meme pushed me over the edge: not all mothers are straight, married, Christian, and/or want to stay home. Not all women are mothers. The “mom boss” message of successful womanhood undermines all women’s accomplishments, diminishing them to a gratuitous, carefully cursed ideal, and not a choice they’re making for themselves. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all model of successful womanhood, motherhood, or success. And, no matter your path, it can still be damn lonely at times. Being a woman, mother, and entrepreneur feels like a constant uphill fight against the anti-feminist narrative of the “mom boss” and my own deep-rooted ideas of what my success should look like. And while I still dream of what my “by-woman, for-women business” will look like in the future, I’m also embracing that idea that where I am today is a good start. It’s good enough to strip away the narrative we’ve been told about what success looks like. It’s good enough to be women who want success — whatever success means to you.



Join our newsletter to stay up-to-date on our blogs, webinars, and podcast!

About the Author

Catherine Ashton (She/Her) is on a mission to change the way nonprofits raise money. As the founder of Giant Squid Group LLC, Catherine works with nonprofits in Austin, TX and Chicago, IL to land donors, win grants, and fund their works.  She is an experienced nonprofit leader who has served as staff member, board member, coach, and facilitator and has a unique ability to help nonprofits tie together program impact, fundraising, and agency capacity. She is a sought-after coach, speaker, and strategist locally and nationally, and specializes in helping organizations marry best practices and mission-aligned innovation to drive systems-level change.


Catherine is dedicated to promoting inclusivity and equity in the nonprofit sector.  She is an alumnae of Leadership Austin and an active member of AFP Austin, Community-Centric Fundraising, and the Young Women’s Alliance. Catherine also serves on the Board of Directors for the Austin Diaper Bank and is the co-founder of Answer the Call Community.


Catherine is an audiobook enthusiast, yarn fanatic, and home-cooking fiend. In her “outside of work” life, she spends time with her daughter, husband, lazy rescue pitbull Latke, and rotund rescue cat, Artemis.

Leave a Reply