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?

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.

Megyn Kelly Shows Us How You Can Have a Big Career and a Life

Megyn Kelly chose NBC over Fox News, in part, for work/life balance reasons. NBC offered her a daytime slot which would allow her to have dinner with her family more regularly.

What’s interesting is that Claire Zillman reports in Fortune that this isn’t the first time Kelly has made a career move for the sake of her family. She quit a lucrative legal career, with its crushing hours, for a $17,000 entry-level job on television news, because she perceived a journalism career to offer more flexibility.

Two points I feel compelled to make. First, journalism is actually not famous for being a family-friendly endeavor. The hours can be just as crushing, without the upside of big salaries, and can often require big moves to find the next great opportunity. Second, while law is famous for chasing out smart, talented women, there are certainly ways to make a law career work for your life. I know women who go into private practice, for example, so they can have more control over their life and work.

What I like about the Kelly story, though, is that it advances the idea that you can make a career “sacrifice” for the sake of your family that still allows you to have a big and fulfilling career. She left the law, in part, because she didn’t find it very “interesting.” The fact that it also made it impossible for her to be the kind of mother she may have been a big factor in her move, but I bet she would have quit law anyway. By moving into journalism she found a career she liked more, was better at, and got herself into a position where she can could negotiate the kinds of jobs that also allow her to have the kind of life she wants.

So often the media narrative around career sacrifice for the sake of family — a sacrifice almost exclusively made by women, of course — posits the idea that our heroine must pare back her ambitions. Ideally she quits, because that’s really the only response we can imagine when a woman is working crushing hours and not seeing her children and has had enough. If she doesn’t quit then she takes a job that is somehow “less” — has less responsibility and power, requires fewer hours and less energy.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with paring back on career in favor of family. It’s a choice many women, and some men, make and it works for them. There are all kinds of ways to build a life and many definitions of success.

But I think what Kelly’s story illustrates, for me, is that when you decide that BOTH your family and your career are important it opens up a lot more possibility. Yes, there are still a lot of systemic problems that make it unnecessarily difficult for working parents to balance their home obligations with their professional ones. But it’s even harder when you are told by the culture, over and over, how very hard it is. So hard that you probably can’t do it and shouldn’t even try.

I don’t make tens of millions of dollars a year as a television journalist. But I do have a big, interesting career. I’m building a nonprofit from scratch. I work hard. I travel pretty frequently — I logged more than 50,000 air miles in 2016. But I also have dinner with my children most nights of the week. I spend weekends seeing movies, taking them to the zoo and doing other fun stuff. My husband is also home most nights and takes on many tasks that aren’t typical. For example, he is 100% in charge of setting up our daughter’s summer camp. He also has a big and demanding career. We have a rich, full life. It’s not always easy but it isn’t miserable either. On the contrary, it’s filled with a lot of joy — both personally and professionally.

Mother’s Day 2011

What a difference a year makes.

Last Mother’s Day Sam was just shy of 6 months old. Maddie was almost 2 1/2 and had only been walking a few months. I can’t remember if he was sleeping through the night. I don’t think so. I’m guessing he was still getting up once. But I know he was sleeping in his crib with Maddie in her new toddler bed. In part I remember because the one and only time that Maddie got out of her bed and came to our room was on Mother’s Day last year.

This time last year I had been back to work for about two months. I was in that stage where mommyhood was still consuming me — literally, as it were, as I was breastfeeding or pumping throughout the day and night. I was tired. So, so, so very tired.

This year Maddie is 3 1/2 and smart as a whip. She loves preschool. This year I got the special joy of getting a gift made at school — a necklace made of plastic beads strung on yarn. I’ve promised that I will wear it to work tomorrow.

Sam is 17 months and delightful. Happy, mostly, though guarded with new people in a way that Maddie never was. Eating anything that doesn’t eat him first.

I’m still tired, but not like then. Mostly I just feel like I have a bit of my life back. I was able to go to the gym yesterday and today. I can wear normal bras again. I’m finally back to my pre-baby weight. I didn’t overly stress on that point either time — it took about a year with Maddie and longer with Sam. But still, it’s nice to be back into some of my favorite clothes and to even buy some new things.

I love being Mommy, but I also love being Tami. The past three Mother’s Days have been all about the Mommy piece — in 2008 Maddie was 6 months old, in 2009 I was pregnant again and last year Sam was very little. This year it finally feels like the balance is swinging back, just a bit, to the Tami side.

Notes from a business trip

I just got back from a 4-day business trip to Denver, Colorado.  My company has a large office there and I got to spend a lot of time with colleagues who I work closely with even though I rarely see them. It was good to see them and we had a lot of fun in addition to all the work we did.

But.

It’s hard leaving the babies. Hearing Maddie’s little voice say “I’m a little sad.” on the phone was heart breaking.

There are also the logistical challenges of traveling while still nursing.  It actually worked out better than I thought it might. I pumped throughout and Fedexed the milk back to New York. (I got these Rubbermaid cooler packs.)  I was a little worried it wouldn’t make it in on piece, but it was fine. Breast milk is nearly indestructible. And yes, by the way, it’s perfectly legal to ship breast milk.  I checked.

Of course the modern mommy has her ways of keeping in touch with the goings-on back home.

First, the aforementioned phone calls which are really quite a riot.  During one such call Maddie said “I don’t have any meetings today. I might have a phone call.” Hilarious.

Second, the nanny sent along pictures from the park. See below, noting that the picture quality isn’t terrific, but you get the idea.

T-Minus 10 Days

I head back to work on March 10.  I really like working and I’m definitely not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom, so I’m mostly happy and excited.  Still, I’m a little sad, too.  I can’t believe how fast my time off flew by.  I can’t believe how big Sam is!  It’s true what they say — you blink your eyes and they grow.

So, some aspects of this transition will be easier than the first time.  We already have a wonderful nanny in place.  I have a great schedule that includes three work-from-home days.  I know how to use the breast pump.

But … now there’s two.  I had gotten into a great groove with Maddie.  Sam is still very little — he’s not quite on a schedule yet, though he’s much less random than he was. I’m sure he’ll into a better routine as a natural consequence of me being on a schedule.

I anticipate the first few weeks will be challenging.