How three Hong Kong working mothers achieve work-life balance as ‘mumpreneurs’

Their start-up businesses help them find personal and professional fulfilment

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 11:49am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 12:24pm

In a city notorious for its long working hours, at least three Hong Kong-based mothers are not giving up their dreams for motherhood as they take work-life balance to another level as “mumpreneurs”.

Three entrepreneurs who founded their own start-up companies after having children are “rare cases’’ in a city that does a poor job of reintegrating new mothers into the workforce, according to Hong Kong Women Development Association vice-chairwoman Au Yeung Po-chun .

“It’s tough for new mothers to go back to work, not to mention being an entrepreneur which requires more effort and time in setting up a business,” Au Yeung said. Most Hong Kong mothers return to the workforce shortly after their maternity leave for economic reasons, she added, but many are unhappy as they find it difficult to maintain a balance with family.

Marie Swarbreck, who has a two-year-old daughter and is expecting her second child in December, said being an entrepreneur allowed her “to be a better mother” as she was able to send her child off to school.

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Swarbreck, who came from Belgium to work in Hong Kong for an international company six years ago, said she was stunned by the local working culture for mothers.

“When I asked for flexible working time or to work part-time, I did not get the support I was looking for, and this was very frustrating for a mother who was just adapting to her new life,” she said.

When I asked for flexible working time or to work part-time, I did not get the support I was looking for
Marie Swarbreck, working mother

The long call for a review of Hong Kong’s 10-week maternity leave for working mothers is still a point of contention in the city. Last December, Swarbreck was inspired to start her own business, called FLEXImums.

The online company aims to link employers with parents looking for workplace flexibility by offering jobs with work-from-home, part-time, or job-share arrangements.

“By being a self-employed entrepreneur, I now also benefit from such flexibility,” she said. “I can say no to work when my children need me.”

Jobs offered by the company range from accountancy positions to those of chief financial officer and involve more than 80 local companies. Swarbreck said more than 2,000 parents have registered, including a number of fathers.

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Benny Yu Cheuk-ying, founder of an online art workshop company, said she found her balance by giving Facebook Live and pre-recorded art lessons online. The approach enables her to spend more time with her children, especially her daughter who was born just last year.

“I love my family and I hope to be able to take care of my children myself instead of having a helper do that for me,” she said. “But at the same time I also enjoy doing artwork and teaching children.”

Pursuing your dream and being a good mum are not mutually exclusive
Benny Yu Cheuk-ying, working mother

“Pursuing your dream and being a good mum are not mutually exclusive,” she added. “My children are in fact my biggest motivation and support.”

Livana Young Yuen-yi, whose online skincare and cosmetics company is now notching sales of over HK$1 million per month, echoed Yu’s sentiment.

Young said that when she started her company in 2012 she would give in to all her two-year-old daughter’s toy-buying requests.

“I felt like this was the only way to repay all the time I had not spent with her for doing my business,” she explained. Later she realised she needed to both spend time with her daughter and be her role model.

“Now that my daughter is six, I told her that everyone needs to have a dream and work hard for it, including her mother,” she said.