News & Opinion

Friday Links

August 08, 2014


➻ Let's start with a quote, brought to our attention by a Vox Communications post entitled Read this male CEO's feminist explanation of why he's quitting: Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don't ask me. The above pull-quote is from Max Schireson, CEO of database company MongoDB, extracted from a blog post he published revealing why he was stepping down from his CEO position.

 Let's start with a quote, brought to our attention by a Vox Communications post entitled Read this male CEO's feminist explanation of why he's quitting:
Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don't ask me.
The above pull-quote is from Max Schireson, CEO of database company MongoDB, extracted from a blog post he published revealing why he was stepping down from his CEO position. In discussing Schireson's post, Vox's Danielle Kurtzleben correctly notes that the "having it all" conversation tends to focus on women. Having-it-all, of course, is a phrase describing the challenge of balancing the rigors of a successful career with maintaining a healthy family life, and the conversation invariably focuses on women. Here's more from Schireson: 
While the press haven't asked me, it is a question that I often ask myself. Here is my situation: * I have 3 wonderful kids at home, aged 14, 12 and 9, and I love spending time with them: skiing, cooking, playing backgammon, swimming, watching movies or Warriors or Giants games, talking, whatever. * I am on pace to fly 300,000 miles this year, all the normal CEO travel plus commuting between Palo Alto and New York every 2-3 weeks. During that travel, I have missed a lot of family fun, perhaps more importantly, I was not with my kids when our puppy was hit by a car or when my son had (minor and successful, and of course unexpected) emergency surgery. * I have an amazing wife who also has an important career; she is a doctor and professor at Stanford where, in addition to her clinical duties, she runs their training program for high risk obstetricians and conducts research on on prematurity, surgical techniques, and other topics. She is a fantastic mom, brilliant, beautiful, and infinitely patient with me. I love her, I am forever in her debt for finding a way to keep the family working despite my crazy travel. I should not continue abusing that patience.
Now for the the paragraph that opens Schireson's blog post:
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. 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.
Max Schireson should be commended for a number of things, here. First, for making the very difficult decision to walk away from potential earnings equaling tens of millions of dollars in order to be a more present and available father and husband. He made an incredibly difficult decision, one that few executives, male or female, are willing to make (though, reading through the comments on Schireson's blog post demonstrates it might happen more frequently that we realize, especially for men in this case). Secondly, Schireson should be commended for bringing further attention to the at best double standard, at worst institutional sexism, that plagues the having-it-all conversation. The Lauer and Atlantic interviews with Mary Barra and Indra Nooyi respectively, as well as Schireson's anecdote from the first pull-quote, are the rule, not the exception, for how businesses and media institutions frame the having-it-all conversation; women are expected to leave their job to be a good mother, while men tend to get a pass. And when women don't exit the workforce, they're directly asked how they balance work and family, while men rarely, if ever, have to answer this question. This is, I think, exactly what Vox's Danielle Kurtzleben, is getting at. However, I have a not-insignificant issue with how Kurtleben herself frames the conversation. Both in the headline and the following quote, Kurtzleben labels Schireson's explanation for why he decided to leave as feminist.
Read his full (not to mention touching, indignant, and feminist) explanation of his decision here.
First, let me say that I hold very strong views that I believe are rightly described as feminist. There is a ton of thorough research that reveals very real, very troubling statistics showing that women are not treated, compensated, and promoted using the same etiquette, wage scale, and guideposts that apply to men in business. That out of the way, Kurtzleben runs a risk of marginalizing Schireson's decision by calling it a feminist explanation. Is it feminist to point out that Schireson and his wife are asked different questions regarding their career and family decisions? Absolutely, it is. It's also feminist to point to the Lauer and Atlantic interviews. Anytime anyone argues against injustice and inequality for women, it is a feminist position. But Schireson's reasons for leaving, those are simply, well, reasons. They're family reasons. They're relationship reasons. They're quality of life and happiness reasons, and none of Schireson's reasons are specific to men or women. They are simply reasons irrespective of societal expectations. It's important to make this distinction for many reasons, just one of them being that by labeling this a feminist explanation, or a feminist decision, it will make it much less likely that the paradigm will shift toward expectational equality. Speaking of high-powered female executives, in 1998 there were only two female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
The number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 has been rising steadily since 1998, when the only female chiefs of such corporate giants were Jill Barad of Mattel MAT 0.84% and Marion Sandler, Co-CEO of Golden West Financial. The female Fortune 500 CEO population dropped in 2009, resurged, and now it's at an all-time high of 24.
There are another 27 women leading Fortune 1000 companies, for a total of 51 women leading Fortune 1000 companies. Female CEOs still only represent only 5% of Fortune 1000 companies, this despite other statistics represented in this reporting from Fortune that may suggest women outperform male CEOs.
Fortune 1000 companies with female chiefs outperformed the S&P 500 index over their respective tenures.
And another, pointed out by ThinkProgress, dispiriting set of statistics:
And despite their likelihood to produce better results, female executives are paid less than male ones. Median pay for the 11 highest-paid female CEOs is $1.6 million less than median pay for the top-paid men. Last year, female CEOs made less than 80 percent of what male ones made. All of the highest paid female executives in any C-suite role make 18 percent less than the men.
It's OK to both celebrate progress but push for more, so let's be encouraged by 2450% growth in the number of female CEOs in the last 16 years, but continue to examine the disparity of female and male CEOs. Knowledge@WhartonWharton School of the University of Pennsylvania's online business analysis journal, discusses another, even more discriminated against subset of the population in a piece entitled When to Come Out: The Challenges Facing Gay CEOs.
Institutions as seemingly unyielding as marriage, the military and professional sports have opened their doors to a degree unimaginable just a few years ago. But the way is still barred to one coveted spot: In the U.S., where attitudes have evolved most dramatically, no openly gay CEO exists in the Fortune 500, many note.
Knowledge@Wharton never skimps. Their pieces are thoroughly researched and discuss as many facets of an issue as possible. This journal entry is no different, and it's difficult to be excited at the little bit of progress being made for LGBTQ identified people in the face of so much continued discrimination.
And yet, even in the progressive U.S., gays and lesbians face obstacles. The Human Rights Campaign notes that laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are non-existent in 29 states. In a recent study by the HRC of 800 gay and lesbian workers across the U.S., 53% said they were not out in the workplace. Gays and lesbians have other reasons to worry. In a 2011 Harvard University study published in the American Journal of Sociology, fictitious resumes were sent to companies in the South and Midwest in response to postings for more than 1,700 entry-level white-collar job openings. Resumes listing experience at a gay organization were 40% less likely to elicit a call for an interview. Moreover, working at a company with posted gay-friendly policies does not guarantee the same path to success for gay and lesbian workers as straight ones. "There are organizational values and beliefs that are often unstated, and it doesn't take very long to understand what these values are and what is acceptable," says McGrath. "[Your company] can have the most moving vision statement, but you know that it's not the right thing to have your gay partner's picture on your desk in the executive suite. There are subtle discriminatory practices that you pick up, and if you really are ambitious, you are not going to buck the tide. I can think of some incredibly successful, bright people who simply do not feel safe coming out."
It's difficult to get excited, but there are some silver linings, and they appear in the form of research conducted on employees of openly gay leaders.
Ironically, many of the same workplace dynamics keeping gays and lesbians from reaching the top rung may have, at the same time, forced them to develop skills that make them better leaders. In a five-year study involving 3,500 professionals, USC's Snyder examined employees of out gay bosses and found 25% to 30% higher levels of job engagement and satisfaction. It had nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the boss per se, he says, "but with the management style of the boss." While being a closeted gay boss was read by employees as "closed, angry and unfair," the "process of coming out of the closet manifested itself in seven principles of leadership that not everyone had," Snyder notes — inclusion, creativity, connectivity, adaptability, community, intuition and collaboration.
It's going to happen soon. A gay CEO will come out of the closet. Kirk Snyder, a corporate diversity consultant and professor of clinical management communication at the University of Southern California, predicts it will happen in the next year, and that once it does, it will create a small, but significant, domino effect. Let's hope he's right. To be sure, the CEO of her art and her band.

We have updated our privacy policy. Click here to read our full policy.