Why Aren’t There More Women CEOs?

It’s one of the more depressing stats I’ve come across: The S&P 1500 has more CEOs named John than women CEOs. Across the broader landscape of the C-Suite women make up about 16%. And we are now, in 2018, 30 years since women began to outnumber men in college.

One answer that is often offered is that women just don’t want to be CEOs. And one reason given for this lack of desire is the punishing schedule of a CEO.  This is seen as untenable with motherhood — either because men don’t do their fair share at home or because mothers just aren’t as wiling as fathers to spend so much time way from their families.

That’s a pretty big “or” in the middle of that sentence. But let’s take the second part. Women, mothers, just want to spend more time with their kids than fathers do. (Wow, when you write it like that it kind of makes those CEO dads sound like monsters, right? Hmm. Funny how a quick a little change in the POV of a sentence can totally change the frame.)

Is a CEO job really so all-consuming? This HBR study suggests yes … and also no.  The study, which examined time diaries of 27 large-company CEOs found they worked an average of 62.5 hours per week. That’s not a small amount, to be sure. But it still leaves plenty of time, in a 168-hour week, for sleep and family. In fact the study found the CEOs averaged nearly 7 hours of sleep per night. That leaves them with about 58 hours a week of time spent awake and not working. In one sense there lives are perfectly balanced between work and life. And the diaries show they spend a good portion of that nonwork time with family — about 3 hours per day. They also spend about 45 minutes per day exercising and a little more than 2 hours on leisure activities like reading, TV or hobbies. Yes, they did work on weekends and vacations. How much? About 4 hours on a weekend day, about 80% of the time and about 2.5 hours on 70% of vacation days. Importantly that leaves roughly 12 hours on a weekend and 13 to 14 hours on a vacation day.

Here’s my point: Does everyone want to work this way? No way! Plenty of people would find this absolutely grueling. But there’s no specific reason why women should be uniquely unsuited.

I also think it’s worth reminding ourselves that we don’t question whether or not the CEOs who keep these hours can be good dads. Why do we assume — both of ourselves and of others — that you can’t be a good mom and work this way?


I’ve been on the planet for more than 47 years and had never heard of Huitlacoche. Yes, somehow, this past week I heard about it twice. There’s a word in semiotics that explains this phenomenon that I’m too lazy to look up.

The Most Epic Wedding Photo Of All Time

Today is my birthday and my sister posted this photo of the two of us:

Image may contain: 2 people

I feel like it deserves explanation. It was my wedding, obviously. We were young. So, so young. I was 24. Tracy had just turned 22. My dress had a long train that was bustled with what seemed like a bazillion little tiny hooks. This was later in the evening. Tracy had some drinks and was trying to refasten my bustle. My mother was trying to take a picture. She was saying “Tracy, look up. Tracy, look up. Tracy, look up.” She was hoping to get a sweet photo of my sister fastening my bustle and smiling lovingly into the lens of the camera.

Instead, she got this. Which is, I’m pretty certain, the most epic wedding photo in the history of wedding photos. I’m also certain that had Tracy looked up and smiled sweetly *that* photo would have been lost to the dustbin of history.

To this day Tracy has this photo framed in her house.

45 > 25. By a lot more than 20.

Last week Pamela Druckerman had a column titled How to Survive Your 40s. I like Druckerman. In fact, one of my favorite columns was a similar topic titled, What you learn in your 40s. But while the latter column mostly celebrated 40something, the former was much more of a lament.

I’m going to turn 47 next Wednesday. I have absolutely loved this stage of my life. When I turned 43 I remember thinking “This is the age I was born to be. I’ve just been waiting 43 years to get here.”

I’m not immune to bouts of vanity — my hair, which is nearly all gray underneath the dye I used to beat it into submission, is a perpetual torture for me. But I have not loved aspects of my appearance throughout my life, so this isn’t unique about 40s. And on balance I feel like the advantages of 40 far outweigh the disadvantages.

I’m more comfortable in my body than ever before. Yeah, sure, there are things that hurt that never used to. But I’ve never felt more comfortable with my physical being.

I more comfortable with my overall being, too. Self-awareness is never perfect, but I feel like I have a better understanding of who I am, what I’m good at, what I’m not good at, even what I like and what I don’t. And I’m more comfortable with who I really am, as opposed to who I think I’m supposed to be.

For me, 45 is greater than 25 by a factor of far more than 20. As I near 50 I’m not filled with dread. In fact, I’m excited. If 50 is even better — and I have good reason to expect it will be — I feel like I have so much to look forward to.


Challenging The Myth That Children Derail Women’s Ambition

Rachel Carson speaks before the Senate in 1963. Photo credit: United Press International

A recent New Yorker had a piece by Jill Lepore about a new volume of Rachel Carson’s writing.

Rachel Carson did not have children but she took care of several, including adopting her four-year-old grandnephew after the death of her niece. Some of her biographers have lamented the toll this caretaking exacted on her output. If only she hadn’t had that responsibility imagine what she could have produced, the line goes.

Let’s think about this critique for a moment. Carson published “A Silent Spring,” the book credited with kicking off the modern environmental movement. The book directly led to the passage of five major pieces of legislation, including The Clean Air Act and the The Clean Water Act and also led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s a lot of impact for one person to have.

Jill Lepore rightly pushed back on the biographers lament of her caregiver role, noting that ” caring for other people brings its own knowledge.” The “insight” that came with caring for both the young and elderly members of her family made her work what it was.

I like this point a lot because it does something that is rare in the media — it actually gives value to the caregiving role. The idea that caregiving confers skills, experiences and wisdom that is valuable beyond the work of care is something our society is remarkably reluctant to acknowledge.

I also think that this idea is that caretaking diminishes a woman’s output is just slanderous. Carson is one of the greatest writers of all time, if you measure greatness by impact on the world. It’s impossible to know if she would have produced more and even more impossible to know if it would have been as great, to Lepore’s point, had she not had obligations. The biggest reason her career was cut short was her untimely death from cancer.

I think this fiction — that only those undistracted by care can reach their full potential — does a disservice to men and women alike. It pushes men to suppress their desires to nurture and care and pushes women out of the public spheres. A life that has both elements — family and work, however you define either of those terms — is richer and, I would argue, more productive in the ways that matter most. Sure, single-minded focus on anything can be a strategy for success. But it is absolutely not the only strategy. And anyone that believes that probably achieves less than they could and lives a life that is less than it could be.

Why Asking the Wrong Questions Yields the Wrong Answers

In a series on women’s ambition, The Atlantic asks “How Much Ambition Can a Marriage Sustain?” The question itself suggests that the answer is a fixed amount that get apportioned across two people in different ways — either equally or with one spouse having much more while the other has much less.

But what if this is the wrong question? What if the question, instead, is “How Can a Couple Build a Life They Both Love?”

The problem with asking how much ambition the marriage can take is that it treats the players like they are sitting across from each other on a seesaw — they can be equal, but then each can only go as high as the middle, or one can be much higher and one is on the ground. This seems like a uniquely unhelpful way to view marriage, right? But more importantly it treats three different states — equal, man up/woman down, and woman up/man down — as if they are the same. But is that so? Are all three of those states essentially the same?

I’d suggest they aren’t. The key reason we all discuss ambition as it relates to marriage is because of the oft-asked question “But what about the kids?” While many (though not all) people tend to believe it’s “okay” if Mom works there is  belief that if both Mom and Dad are working all that time, that would be bad. That seems like a reasonable conclusion. But then it gets murky — is it okay if one parent works “all the time” and the other doesn’t? Does it matter which one? If one parent works “all the time” does that mean the other parent must not work at all to even the seesaw?

What’s interesting to me is that the research on the effect on children if Mom works is pretty clear — they do fine. There is some research on the effect of Dad’s career and it finds that kids do fine with a Dad who works a reasonable amount, but that Dad’s who aren’t around are missed (I know, right?).

If that’s true I think it fundamentally changes the question. Because clearly one parent around “all the time” doesn’t actually make up for one who isn’t around very much. And now we can ask, instead of how much total ambition can the marriage take, how much ambition in either parent can the family take?

For what it’s worth, I think the answer to that last question is “More than most of us think.” If you use your time with your family well and create wonderful and loving memories, those will loom much larger in the minds of your children than the missed dinners or a weekend away for business. Yes, there’s likely a limit to how much a parent can work and still be effective. But that’s true regardless of how little the other parent works, which means the marriage (and the family) can likely sustain ambition in both partners and turn out fine.