My mother-in-law learned that her father didn’t want her to go to college; it was a waste. She was just going to end up as a wife and mother, after all.
When enrolled at George Washington University, pursuing a career in math, she wanted to take a course in the graduate school of engineering on linear programming. The dean told her, “Virginia, I’ve never had a woman in my engineering program, and I don’t intend to start with you.” That was in 1964.
So she majored in math, found a way to learn how to code, and worked as a contractor for MIT’s Instrumentation Lab, now known as the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. She wrote some of the code that launched the lunar excursion module.
Compared to that, I momentarily feel I have no grounds for complaint.
Fast-forwarding 50+ years to today, women are encouraged to pursue education and careers. Women today get the majority of college degrees in America, the number of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies has reached a historic high, and there is a light shining on how to create more progress for us in the workplace across all industries — in technical and non-technical roles.
Sounds pretty great, right? Wrong.
That “record high” means 24 female CEOs out of 500 companies — five percent.
The 57 percent of college degrees going to women? Those highly educated/capable women are leaving the workforce in droves.
I like to boil things down to the most simplistic form. This is about society, systems, and bias. And there’s much more progress to be made.
How do Mark Zuckerberg and Marissa Mayer play into this? While both are high profile, one represents a positive action towards progress, the other represents 1964.
Zuckerberg is in the middle of a 2-month paternity leave, while Marissa Mayer announced she plans to take two weeks off following the birth of twins. While Mayer is not a founder, they are both chief executives of multibillion-dollar corporations. Zuckerberg’s decision to take two months out of the company’s four-month policy say send a message that time off to bond with your newborn is important. In his Facebook post on November 20, when he announced he’d take two months off, he wrote:
“Studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, outcomes are better for the children and families.”
I don’t see a source, and yet I don’t need to check his facts. It’s important.
My praise for Zuckerberg’s efforts is he’s not just party to creating a great maternity leave policy, his policy is for all parents and sets a standard for men as well. Maternity leave is not the answer to helping those having children still thrive professionally. Parental leave is. Women and men won’t be equal in the workplace unless they are equal in the home. While I see many companies creating great maternity policies, I still see paternity leave at around two weeks on average. This article from The Atlantic applauds Zuckerberg, but points out that oftentimes men who are allowed to take leave don’t: “Men who are offered paid leave often don’t take it, for fear of social and professional repercussions in the office hierarchy.”
This is part of the standard that’s being set — women are caregivers, men are breadwinners. It’s an uphill battle and won’t change overnight, but Zuckerberg is party to the change. We need more CEOs like him who tell other men it’s okay to take time out for your family.
Now, let’s hop in my time machine, set it to 1950, and visit Yahoo (I know Yahoo was founded in 1995, but work with me).
Working from home isn’t allowed, the US-headquartered company is only alive thanks to investing in a Chinese company, and the CEO is only planning to take a two-week maternity leave following the birth of her twins. Where’s the closest martini bar? It’s lunch time.
I’m going to take a controversial stance here and say this isn’t about Marissa Mayer’s personal choice; it’s about the Yahoo board saying this is okay. Boards overrule CEOs all the time. It didn’t happen here. Here’s a Mayer quote about why her first leave was short:
“After 13 years of really hard work at Google, I had been envisioning a glorious six-month maternity leave. However, if I took the new job, a long leave couldn’t happen. The responsibilities were too big, and time was of the essence — it just wouldn’t be fair to the company, the employees, the board, or the shareholders for me to be in the role, but out for an extended period of time.”
She wanted longer leave. She felt she couldn’t take it. She felt it wasn’t fair to the company and the board. She sacrificed time she wanted based on the pressure and the assumption that taking the role she did required a tradeoff. It didn’t. The board could have prevented it. What does this say? Companies are more important than children and parenting.
I doubt men at Yahoo are taking more than two weeks when their female CEO didn’t. It’s a cycle that those in positions of power need to break.
This is the societal and systemic problem. Babies give us a great opportunity to talk about policy; but my real struggle is that advocating for maternity leave is not equal to advocating for family-friendly work environments. Having the baby is a moment in time. Parenting is for life. Working is for life. And that’s where the straw breaks the mom’s back.
Women leave careers in tech because the juggling act is exhausting. They become faced with two options: Take the mommy-track, or leave altogether. What’s a mommy-track? It’s a slower-paced, high flexibility way of working that allows companies to keep talented women, and women to keep their jobs. Sound win-win? It’s actually a dead-end trap. Talented women want to grow their careers, not just stall out for the sake of staying employed.
How is this fixed? Flexibility for the mashup. The first place I saw this term was from the COO of Change.org. The best part of the article:
“I’m still a parent when I walk into work, and I still lead a company when I come home. So if my daughters’ school calls with a question in the middle of a meeting, I’m going to take the call. And if a viral petition breaks out in the middle of dinner, I’ll probably take that call, too.
And that’s okay — at least for me and my family. I have accepted that work and life are layers on top of each other, with rotating levels of emphasis, and I have benefited from celebrating that overlap rather than to try to force it apart.
I refer to this as the “Work/Life Mashup.”
This concept has helped me tremendously. I can take care of whatever needs taking care of in the moment. It’s forcing the separation that becomes unbearable. Yet you have to find a company that really gets it. It takes an understanding CEO to watch a parent walk out the door at 4 p.m. multiple days per week for daycare pickup and think nothing of it. I heard Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot’s cofounder and CTO, say, “We don’t track what hours people are working anymore; we’re in a knowledge economy and it doesn’t make any sense.” Well said. The rub? You still have to contribute in a big way. Flexibility goes to those who show they’re still going above and beyond, just doing it differently with a work/life mashup.