Over here on my side of the Atlantic, this week the business press was full of headlines about the resignation of Rubin Ritter, the co-CEO of Zalando, one of Europe's largest online fashion retailers. What was so newsworthy about Ritter leaving the company he'd helmed for more than a decade?
Malfeasance? Industry consolidation? An exciting new venture he's starting? Nope, I'll let Ritter himself explain:
"My wife and I have agreed that for the coming years, her professional ambitions should take priority," Mr. Ritter said in a statement. "I want to devote more time to my growing family."
How nice! Oh wait, maybe not.
Ritter is clearly making a perfectly lovely personal decision and should receive nothing but praise for doing what he felt is right for his family. While his wife's name and profession has so far stayed out of the press, we do know the family is expecting a second child soon, making it obvious why someone is going to have to be putting in additional hours on the home front soon.
But while Ritter is clearly blameless, it is quite possible to get a little upset that we live in the kind of world where his rationale for his departure is worth blaring headlines such as the BBC's "Zalando Boss to Quit 'to Prioritise Wife's Career.'"
After all, an absolute avalanche of research has shown that, since this pandemic began putting intolerable strain on working families, professional women have been cutting back their responsibilities and stepping back from big jobs in droves. Not once have I read a headline announcing, "Wife of Male Bigwig Quits Promising, Loved Career to Keep the Family's Sanity Intact."
It's happening. And if you look at the numbers, it's happening a lot. It's just not newsworthy. Sure, there is handwringing about the collective economic and social impact of the pandemic on women's careers. But a headline announcing that another ambitious woman threw in the towel to make it all somehow work? Nope, that's pretty much unthinkable because that's just business as usual, perfectly expected, nothing to see here.
Much like the cheers that greeted Mark Zuckerberg's decision to take a couple months of paternity leave a few years back, the need to celebrate this news speaks volumes about how far we have to go before we have truly equal expectations when it comes to men, women, ambition, and somebody successfully raising the next generation of humans.
Which, I repeat, says absolutely nothing about Ritter -- good on him for making this call for his family. I'm not even particularly annoyed at the BBC and other outlets for covering the news as they did. They respond to the realities of society and expectations of the audience. Which is what we should worry about.
The high profile of Ritter's resignation should make us all think long and hard about what kind of world we've built where the woman in a two-career family taking professional priority constitutes headline news.