A lot of people are talking about this interview with Indra K. Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo. She’s very blunt about the fact that being a CEO and being a wife and mother are basically incompatible. I’m not entirely sure what to say. I think she’s probably right, but I think she shouldn’t be. Is being a CEO incompatible with being a father and husband? Maybe. It’s hard to know. Most men in high-powered positions, unlike most women, have a stay at home wife at home managing the family. Both men and women in such positions have nannies and housekeepers and other staff to manage things, making things a bit easier, but still, you’ll miss school events and sports games and conversation over dinner, all things that can’t be done by the help.
I get that being a CEO, or anyone at a high level in a big corporation, has a lot on their plate and probably needs to work lots of hours, but I have this gut feeling that I want to be in a country that places value on both work and family nearly equally. And yes, for those below the CEO level, that might require so-called “family-friendly” policies, but more importantly, it requires a culture change that unfortunately, I just don’t think is possible. America is all about work. Work is what defines you. Those who don’t work are frowned upon. Unless you’re a stay at home mom, of course. Stay at home dads, the unemployed, welfare recipients, all looked down on.
I personally love working. I find fulfillment in my work and mostly always have. But I have had times of conflict with family. Just go back to the archives of this blog and you’ll find them. Some of them were tortuous for me. And it wasn’t simple things like housework. It was not being there for crises, not connecting with my kids during difficult times. It was the intangible things. Policies can’t solve all of that, but culture can solve some of it. Limiting work hours, not feeling like you have to put in face time to move ahead, judging you for your work are all things that might help. If a parent knows that leaving early for a sports game isn’t going to make them look bad, that is going to help. But at most places, we’re really far away from that. I’m grateful that I’m in a place where that culture exists. As I used to say fairly often at my previous workplace, this isn’t NASA, meaning that most of what we do isn’t life or death. Heading out early when you need to isn’t a life or death situation.
I feel like I’m pretty close to having it all, but I’m not a CEO. Could I have been? Doubtful. But I did shy away from a job in higher education because I couldn’t imagine balancing my life with that kind of demanding job. I don’t regret that choice. In fact, I wish I’d made it sooner. I think we all choose what we think is best for us, and figure out where our energy is best spent. Could those choices be easier? I hope so. I hope that women will continue to step up to demanding jobs and I hope that those around them and yes, maybe even our government, will work to make the balancing act better.