working women

Max Schirenson Resigns as CEO to Spend More Time with His Family (No, really)

“I’m going to spend time with my family” is a euphemism in corporate America.  It really means: “I’m a CEO who is resigning my position because I would otherwise be fired.”  Nobody believes that the line is anything but face-saving PR, accompanied by a confidentiality agreement and severance package.  

The fact that this euphemism exists at all speaks volumes about our work culture.  It essentially takes something that is presumably sacred to almost everyone (i.e. their closest loved ones) and turns it into a “second best” consolation prize.  Does this mean that work actually does come first for almost all high-achieving executive types?  Or just that they have to pretend it does?

Max Schirenson may not be a household name but he’s well known in the technology world as CEO of Mongo DB, a billion-dollar technology “start-up” (a pretty mature one).  This week, he penned a blog post announcing his resignation as CEO to spend more time with his family.  It has been praised as possibly “the greatest memo about work-life balance ever“, with a special shout-out to the double-standard and skepticism that successful professional women face regarding work-life balance.  His anecdote is personal: his wife is a full-time doctor and Stanford professor, and mother to their three children who she often parented alone while Schirenson travelled extensively between SF and NY for work.  He points out that many people ask her about how she manages to balance everything, while he is not questioned about the same issue.  There are many things I could say about his memo, but the main thing I want to highlight is this:

I recognize by writing this I may be disqualifying myself for some future CEO role.  Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday?  Maybe.

By admitting that work is not the only thing that’s important to him, he acknowledges that some of his peers may perceive him as a less-than-ideal, insufficiently committed corporate leader.  What’s fascinating is that its irrational for anybody to actually believe that work is the only thing that matters to even the most committed leaders.  But its staggering to see the grip of this powerful idea, and the lengths to which talented, intelligent people will go in order to keep up appearances that comport with this idea.  

When a company’s leadership cultivates this appearance of one dimensional values (whether its real or not at the individual level), it trickles down in ways that affect everyone else.  This is when a company’s work-life balance culture cannot be captured in any official policies or benefits package.  There may be flex time and even generous sick/paid leave (and we are not knocking the tangible importance of them) but a value system is pervasive and technically invisible, even if its completely obvious.  So we rely on what those who live(d) it say.  For anyone like Schirenson who cares about how to manage their jobs and personal life, we hope to capture this important feature of corporate culture in Fairygodboss reviews.  


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