Me and My Father

Being career-focused and a woman (and a woman who comes from a line of female engineering entrepreneurs who obviously had children too), naturally everyone wants to know my thoughts on that infamous “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” article. As though people are daring me to say that the author of said article is totally wrong and of course women can have it all.

And then, almost on cue, the news broke about Marissa Mayer being the new CEO of Yahoo! and being pregnant. As soon as she said she’ll only take a few weeks of maternity leave (during which she’ll continue to work from home), hoards of people piled on to say that she has no idea what she’s getting herself into. Oh, those silly first-time mothers! Must be the pregnancy brain.

I have no problem with either of those points, in theory. Of course, more hours at work means fewer at home. And of course, having a new baby is going to be a ton of work. So I have no problem with those points… except for how incredibly gendered the conversation is.

What about men? They aren’t “having it all” either. They’re making the same trade-off between time with their children and time with their career.

What about male CEOs who are first-time fathers? Would we really have the same shock if a male CEO (who, say, also had some surgery that would take several weeks to recover from) only took a few weeks of paternity leave? No, we’d probably surprised that he’s taking any at all.

When we leave men out of this discussion, we’re being horribly unfair to fathers everywhere. We’re saying that we don’t expect you to be devoted fathers — not in the same way we expect women to be devoted mothers. We’re telling them — and our children — that as long as a man makes a cursory effort to be involved (you know, don’t totally abandon your kids), that hey, that’s good enough. We’re defining a good father as, first and foremost, one who provides financially for their children.

These messages are pervasive in society, and those earlier articles are just one more instance of it. If we want to level the playing field for women in their career, we need to do that for men at home.

I would say more, but I think this article expresses things perfectly.

…The reason that women struggle over the question of being both a mother and a professional is because they have such a high view of both. For women, being a good mother and a capable professional are both roles that require incredible amounts of commitment and sacrifice, so much so that it becomes nearly impossible for the average women to fulfill both roles adequately. And hence, intense debate results.

The reason no one ever asks the same question of men is because we don’t expect very much out of fathers. If a man is somewhat engaged with his children, and makes some attempt to be present and active in their lives, he is considered a good father. And fortunately, that level of participation in a child’s life still allows a man enough time and energy to fully devote themselves to another calling, that of their professional lives. This is why men are better able to balance these two roles—not because of the enhanced abilities of men, but because the role of father is culturally diminished and relatively lightweight. A man can throw himself into his career, and dabble in fatherhood, and still win the approval of all.

(Read the whole thing. Seriously. It’s short, but good.)

Can’t we just leave gender out of this?

Gayle Laakmann McDowell

Gayle Laakmann McDowell is the founder / CEO of CareerCup, and the author of Cracking the Coding Interview, Cracking the PM Interview, and The Google Resume. Gayle has worked as a software engineer for Microsoft, Apple and Google. She holds a bachelor's and master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Computer Science, and an MBA from the Wharton School. She currently resides in Palo Alto, CA.

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