Female founders are overworked, undervalued, and burned out. According to McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace Report 2021,” burnout rates escalate much faster among women than men.
From funding shortages to discrimination, female and non-binary founders encounter hurdles discouraging them from starting to growing their startups.
Am I at risk for founder burnout?
Let’s start with assessing your personal risk for burnout. We turn to the Burnout Risk Index developed by UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. Go through the individual statements and give them a score from 0 to 6 depending on how often you experience them.
1 A few times a year or less
2 One a month or less
3 A few times a month
4 Once a week
5 A few times a week
6 Every day
Sum up the total and divide it by nine to get your average burnout risk score.
How to prevent founder burnout symptoms
According to the Berkeley scientists, there are three components of your burnout risk. Here are some guiding questions to help you work through your own weak spots.
Fatigue is produced by being both emotionally overextended and physically exhausted by your work
- How can you build in small pockets of time during the day to effectively re-energize?
- How can you set boundaries and expectations around your availability?
- In what ways can you detach from your devices and notifications?
In a work context, cynicism is an attitude of distance or lack of enthusiasm towards your role or your tasks
- Which tasks, processes, or people reduce your satisfaction at work?
- What gives you purpose in your startup’s mission?
- How can you break tasks into small, manageable sub-goals?
The feeling of not performing or being competent in your job
- What skills do you think you lack to be effective? How can you delegate or outsource these tasks?
- Who makes you feel less capable? How can you detach from these people?
- How do you manage and receive feedback at work?
Practical advice from mental health care founders
We have established that leading a startup is extremely challenging to a founder's mental health. Let's look at some practical, real-life advice. I set out to find answers and talked to the best advisors I could think of: The amazing, resilient founders of mental health care startups. If anybody knows how to tackle burnout, it’s them. Here’s what these experts do to prevent or combat their own burnout symptoms.
Maria Freitas is the co-founder and CEO of uMore. The startup was born from a desire to help people living in isolation. She and her global team built an AI-powered mental wellbeing tracker. It helps you build positive habits and share how well you’re doing with friends, family, and doctors.
Trinity Griffin, the founder of Tracking My Tears, is from St. Louis, Missouri. “Every once in a while, we all need a good cry,” she says. The app (available for iOS and Android) features a tracker, journal, and a vast community of criers. Tracking My Tears helps your body regulate your emotion and release stress.
Susie Boggess is an LA-based comedy writer and the founder of Party Freud–a game for people who probably need therapy and who love to laugh. Through comedic relief, the game normalizes seeking out therapy. It also supports access to mental health services through donations.
Dr. Katherine Grill co-founded Neolth after earning a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience. She worked in clinical research with teens when she experienced the increased pressure they had to endure. That motivated her to create the neuroscience-backed platform to improve students' resiliency skills.
Going to the root causes of burnout
Starting with yourself and your mental and physical health is a major accomplishment. There’s a lot of work and determination that goes into fighting burnout symptoms. Once you find temporary relief, it’s a good time to dig deeper and fight the root causes of these problems.
Acknowledging the role of gender and race
There are groups of people who are more affected by burnout than others. The McKinsey report shows that 42% of women said they have been often or almost always burned out in 2021 compared to 35% of men.
Why does this gap exist? Women and non-binary founders struggle with high expectations and feelings of inadequacy. That shows the FLIK Mental Health of Female Founder Report. Over 80% of respondents experienced these problems. The authors say this could be because they are expected to achieve more for the same level of respect as their male counterparts.
Gender is not the only contributing factor to their experiences at work. There are even more stressors for women of color, with disabilities, or queer people. The fact that these marginalized entrepreneurs are more burned out is not a coincidence. It’s the result of a bigger systemic problem that we need to tackle.
If we want to solve the root cause of the problem, we need to address unpaid care work, racism, and money.
Addressing the role of money
One of the primary stressors for female and non-binary founders is cash flow, according to the FLIK report. This was especially a concern for non-male Black (71%) and Latinx founders (69%). It’s no surprise that women and BIPOC founders are stressed out over money. Statistically, they don’t receive it.
If we want to fight burnout, we need to address the gender funding gap. We need allies to help with the lack of financial stability in the form of loans, government support, and crowdfunding.