Stories about a woman who leaves a successful career to spend more time with her family are a dime a dozen. Stories about a man doing the same? Those are few and far between. That’s the explanation being given by technology company CEO Max Schireson, who is taking a less extensive role in the company in order to try to “balance” his professional and family life.
“In a call with Forbes, Schireson says that he decided to step down because of the toll imposed on him by constant travel between the company’s New York City and Palo Alto headquarters and from customer visits,” writes Alex Konrad. “Spending more time with his family, the outgoing CEO says, ‘is not a euphemism. It’s something I needed to do for my family, and there’s never a convenient time.’”
Schireson cites the massive travel schedules, the important recent small crisis moments his family experienced that he wasn’t there for and his personal exhaustion levels as factors for his job change. But in an article that he wrote for Time Magazine, he admitted he was puzzled by how little anyone questioned him about his personal life once he made his decision public.
“Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi,” wrote Schierson. “As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.”
“Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood,” he added. “Somehow, the same people don’t ask me.”
Balancing the roles of wife, mother and high level executive often seems to be the only question media has for women in leadership roles. From Melissa Mayer’s nursery in her office to questioning Barra’s ability to run a business and still be a good mother, the predominate narrative is that we expect mother to both do everything simultaneously and excel at each. Yet at the same time, we question her ability to do both, even far after parenting should even be a question — such as the media asking whether Hillary Clinton should still run for office while her daughter is expecting.
As a woman, a working person, and the mother of three very small children, I have spent the last few years watching the fight over the myth of the work/life balance with rabid interest. Like most people with children, I would love to be able to spend time participating actively in their lives but not at the expense of my career, which I also love and find fulfilling. You want your children to have all the opportunities you can open up for them, but you also want to be able to afford the basics like shelter and food; figuring out how to earn enough to make that happen while still being engaged in their lives and care, and fitting in an hour or two of sleep somewhere in there, can be extremely difficult.
What I seldom see, and what is refreshing in Schireson’s story, is the male role in wanting to have it all. My husband is just as adamant about wanting to balance his own work and family life, but with his own job doesn’t have the flexibility that I do. Yet the desire to raise his children in the way he feels will best benefit them is just as much an issue, though his experience is neither represented or even asked about.
From “Lean In” to flextime, the debate often revolves around what a professional level woman is willing to give up to make the family work. Will she take a short leave or put her career on hold to keep the kids out of daycare? Will she cut short the overtime hours on a new project to ferry them to dance lessons? Can she take the financial hit of part time work, or find a company that is willing to work around her hectic “have it all” schedule?
With men asking the same questions, will we finally see real changes to the workforce? With employment type changing drastically in the last two decades as jobs and workplaces become more creative and virtual (and, as a side effect, more contract-based and less reliable) it seems ridiculous that we are still stuck not just in an old-fashioned idea of how and where jobs should be performed, but who should be doing them.
That it takes a man finally weighing in on a need for work/family balance is sad, but if it opens up real conversation, it is welcome, no matter how we got here.
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