When the CEO of MongoDB, Max Schireson, publicly announced that he was resigning to spend more time with his family recently, the Internet responded with a cheer. Isn't it great that a male executive is admitting to work-life balance struggles, too, and contributing to a thoughtful conversation about whether you can be a good CEO and a good parent at the same time, commentator after commentator enthused.
But not everyone was so thrilled with the discussion that followed Schireson's decision. While no one could criticize Schireson's personal call or do anything but wish him all the best, Emma Plumb, the director of 1 Million for Work Flexibility, does take issue with the assumption that his resignation blog post and the media response that followed is some sort of victory for executive work-life balance.
In her contrarian take on the matter on Medium, Plumb argues that, in fact, the opposite is true. "I think unfortunately Schireson's decision to leave his position is a step backward for both work-life balance and for women execs," she says. "Suggesting that his departure from the role is a good move for the workplace at large sadly reinforces the idea that you cannot be an involved parent and a successful CEO at the same time--and that's the very notion that has strongly contributed to the fact that women currently hold only 5.1 percent of Fortune 1000 CEO positions."
All or Nothing?
In particular, Plumb takes issue with Schireson's comment that "MongoDB deserves a leader who can be 'all-in' and make the most of the opportunity." It's a sentiment that's bound to please the company's investors, she notes, but it implies something unpleasant and untrue about parenting while holding a big job.
"If the only way that a leader can be 'all-in' is to dismiss everything else in their life other than work, how will we ever achieve gender equality in management? How will we ever get any diversity of thought at an executive roundtable? Must all CEOs forever be single and childless, or distant spouses and distant parents?" she asks. Frame the role of executive this way and you lose countless talented people who are simply unwilling to be largely absent from their loved ones' lives.
Far better, she feels, than applaud a choice between an "all-in" executive role and involved parenthood, is to fight to ensure the two are no longer mutually exclusive.
"What we desperately need is a workplace where highly qualified and successful individuals like Schireson, male or female, can opt in to a CEO position and opt in to their family at the same time. That means we need widespread work flexibility, we need to embrace vacations as a necessity for enhanced productivity (yes, gasp! even for CEOs), and we need to find solutions to our overwork rather than resign ourselves to it," she concludes.
What do you make of Plumb's argument?