Can You Be a Good CEO and a Good Parent at the Same Time?
Every female business leader under the sun is eventually asked by some member of the media how she manages to juggle work and family life. Male executives are just about never faced with this sort of question, but that double standard doesn't mean men aren't making similar sacrifices to keep all the balls in the air.
Just ask Max Schireson, soon to be ex-CEO of billion-dollar database company MongoDB, who just announced on the company's blog that he's stepping down for a reason you rarely hear escape the mouths of men who run companies--he wants to spend more time with his family.
"Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don't ask me," Schireson notes, before admitting that nonetheless, "a few months ago, I decided the only way to balance was by stepping back from my job."
The Reality Behind the Double Standard
It's a fascinating post on a couple of levels. First, Schireson boldly flags up the double standards in expectations that are more often discussed by controversy-baiting bloggers like Penelope Trunk. ("We have a double standard in our society: if you're poor and you abandon your kids, you're a bad parent. But if you're rich and abandon them to run a company, you're profiled in Fortune magazine," she has written).
Second, he lifts the veil on what reality may truly be like for those we like to think of as highly successful. Do we need to be more honest with ourselves about the sacrifices those at the top of companies make to do their jobs well? Is the truth that succeeding as a CEO nearly always means being a subpar parent?
Schireson is not the first father to admit to struggling. Jeff Atwood, the co-founder and CTO of Stack Exchange, quit in 2012, citing family responsibilities. "Startup life is hard on families. We just welcomed two new members into our family, and running as fast as you can isn't sustainable for parents of multiple small children," he wrote at the time.
And following the flurry of discussion following the publication of Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlantic article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" on her decision to give up a post at the State Department, James Joyner responded in the same magazine with an article entitled "Men Can't Have It All, Either." After noting the obvious biological differences between the sexes and that, per the double standards discussed above, women generally face fiercer condemnation if they're perceived as falling short as parents, Joyner concludes: "the fact is that life is full of trade-offs. It's not possible to 'have it all.' It never was. And never will be. For women or for men."
His point, in other words, is that you can have what Trunk refers to as a "big job" or you can see your children frequently enough to build a high-quality, nurturing relationship with them, but you can't do both, no matter what your gender. We just accept this reality more readily for men than we do for women.
What do you make of Schireson's resignation? Does society give high-powered men a pass when they neglect their children? And is it possible to have a high-flying career and still be a good dad?