It’s in no way radical to say that mothers in the workplace face a specific set of challenges. Forbes recently reported that the among developed nations, the U.S. is “dead last” when it comes to paid maternity leave, and that’s to say nothing of the day-to-day difficulty (and Herculean organizational feat) that comes along with getting kids to and from school while getting to and from the office.
“The rules change once you have kids, or at least it feels like it,” says Somerville mom Jess Petersen. “Whether you’re taking time off from the workforce to raise your kids and come back, or you’re trying to balance both, all of the sudden, the game is different.”
That’s why Petersen, along with co-founding mothers Sharon Kan of Lexington and Cambridge’s Margaret McKenna, just launched Pepperlane—a platform that makes it easy to find and support entrepreneurial moms who run their own businesses.
The trio see working moms as “one of the most underserved communities,” according to Petersen, and they believed there was an opportunity and a need for an online platform that would specifically help that community sell and promote products and services. While Pepperlane’s sleek interface could work for just about any small business owner, the focus here is on companies that are run by women with kids.
That’s important to these three, all of whom are moms themselves who come from startup backgrounds. Petersen was pregnant with her second child as the group readied to launch Pepperlane.
“Theres a ton of awesome, interesting startups in the Boston area,” McKenna says. “But I have never run into one where there are two other women founders who are working on a mission to help moms in the workplace. It’s an unheard of opportunity.”
Pepperlance brings together women from countless backgrounds who do everything from dog walking to event planning to teaching yoga classes. It’s not just a place to track down services, either—you’ll also find maker-moms like Sudbury’s Jana Blanchette, who stitches custom quilts and tees, on the platform.
Many of Pepperlane’s users provide services that would particularly appeal to busy moms. Stephanie Johnson of Medford founded Swapit, which helps people sift through their stale closet and trade old clothes out for stylish new ones, and Zainab Alsubai is a Lexington mom who offers Middle Eastern meal prep and cooking lessons. There are children’s tutors like Camilla Momkvist-Skau, professional organizers including Julie Sheridan and “errand runners” such as Anne Meade.
But whether you’re a working mother, a busy professional or just a person who needs a good massage, anyone is welcome to join, support and buy from the moms who use the network.
“Moms are always told, ‘Well, you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, you need to refresh your skills,'” Petersen says. “The fact is, moms have ridiculous numbers of skills, whether it’s from their professional or their personal lives. Maybe you need some help getting started, you need some confidence, you need the support of a lot of women that are on the same path, but it’s not like you don’t know anything.”
She explains that their first step in building the site was to interview “dozens and dozens” of women about what they’d want from this type of service, and many of the women they spoke to were looking for a life-work balance (she emphasizes putting life first). Many had returned to the workforce in some capacity, but found working from home or adopting a flexible schedule didn’t feel quite right. “You can never really get ahead that way,” Petersen says. “When you’re working at a flexible job, it’s like you’re always being treated as … ‘We’re doing you a favor.'” Pepperlane’s co-founders believe there’s another way—to build something that would be more fulfilling, something “that would work better for what their lives look like as moms and what our lives look like as moms,” according to Petersen.
Because as many moms will tell you, there’s often a self-fulfillment aspect to belonging to the labor force that goes beyond money, beyond even the social network offered by an office environment. Work is often a part of one’s own personal identity, a means of creative expression
“We really want this to be a place where people can find that spark, pursue it, fan the flame, and have a business that is the exact size and amount of effort that they want it to be,” Petersen says. “Mothers can get it done.”