Max Schireson, CEO of software company MongoDB, is the latest high-powered executive to acknowledge the challenge of being both a parent and a company leader.
Schireson has gotten lots of attention for his refreshingly honest blog post titled "Why I am leaving the best job I ever had," in which he explains his decision to step down as CEO to stop commuting between his home in California and his work in New York and spend more time with his wife and three children. Really. This wasn't some euphemism for being fired, as is often the case when a male executive relinquishes power.
Schireson noted in his post that although female executives are often questioned on their life-work balance, men in similar positions are not.
"As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like," Schireson wrote, "but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO."
Schireson makes an excellent point. "Today" show host Matt Lauer was lambasted as sexist for asking General Motors CEO Mary Barra whether she could handle being a mom and manage the company.
But let's not shy away from the life-work balance question. Interviewers should be asking male leaders about the balancing act as much as they ask female leaders about it.
I say, bring it on. Let's talk about this more, more and more. The more work-life balance is discussed publicly, the greater the possibility for real, systemic change. At least, that's the hope.
But I'd like to see a follow-up question. These CEOs have admitted it's pretty much impossible to properly balance family time with a demanding career. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi was remarkably candid about her experience trying to be a decent parent and an executive.
So I would ask: What are you doing about to fix that?
So far, their comments seem to suggest they are powerless. But these icons of the business community have tremendous power to at least begin to shift the corporate culture to be more family-friendly. Do they expect their executives to work full time or "crazy full time," which is how Schireson described his job as CEO? Do they pay or promote employees based on the work product or the hours spent in the office? Do they allow flexible working hours or telecommuting? Do they expect their workers to be constantly in touch by cellphone or email?
Certainly, CEOs face tremendous demands on their time and energy. That executives are willing to talk about the difficulty of balancing career and family is a good sign. But it would be nice to hear them talk about changing the status quo, not just acknowledging it.