Honesty in a CEO. And housewife.

A couple of weeks ago Matt Lauer of the Today Show asked GM CEO Mary Barra if she could be a good mother and a good CEO at the same time. He says he’d have asked the same parenting question of a male CEO, if like Ms. Barra, the CEO had brought up the issue in a previous interview. 

It’s not a bad to thing, to ask a person if they can be a good parent and be a good CEO at the same time. It’s perhaps even, a very good thing. 

PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi answered honestly:

I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all… every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother… We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom.

It’s not a bad thing to be content and earnest if you’re instead a good parent and good wife, without the CEO-ness. Kate Tuttle is happy with what she has (and she sounds a lot like me):

Although I make money with my writing, it’s a tiny fraction of what my husband makes. We mostly live on his income. As for the housewife’s workload, that’s mostly mine…  The crazy part is, I (mostly) love it.

It’s utterly refreshing to hear two perspectives from two women who are to be admired, not for how they spend their days, but for their self-awareness. They acknowledge what’s hard. They acknowledge what they want and their associated costs. They work to cover them: Willing to pay, because there’s a benefit out there that’s worth the price.

***

My daughter doesn’t like that I work. It makes me too “busy.” She was telling me this, woefully, but then she paused and said,

“But you were busy before you worked. What were you doing?” 

“Well, I helped out at your school a great deal. I took care of the house and of you and your brother, and Daddy, then. I still do.” 

“Oh yeah….” 

My son recently said, after watching his older cousins head off to their summer jobs as life guards (which struck my daughter as “sad,” because they didn’t have as much time to play),

“I wish I weren’t a boy.”

“Why?” I asked, preparing myself for a completely unexpected but happy-to-have conversation about his gender identification.

“When you grow up you have to go to work.”

My daughter interjected.

“What? Girls grow up and go to work! Mommy took me to work when I was a baby, remember? And then she was home with us and she worked, and now she works and she does work in the house, too.”

I’m a corporate wife. A housewife. A mother. A writer. A woman. And with that conversation, I know a key piece of this woman’s work is done. 

Please stop “covering.”

At the moment, there are more men than women in positions of corporate leadership. Men? Speak up, already.

“…a broad range of people, including straight white men, avoid talking about family with colleagues, and that “covering” makes those employees disinclined to stand up for others whose family needs come up at work, less likely to vocally support family-friendly policies, and can even lead them to avoid those who are more open about their family needs.”

via Both Men and Women Should ‘Uncover’ Family Responsibilities at Work – NYTimes.com.

Don’t lean in. Move forward.

When I was in grad school, I wrote a thesis on whether it was good state policy to deny additional funds to a mother receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children when she had another child. (I believed the policy was, in a word, flawed.)

See, there was this idea out there, in the early 1990s, that single mothers who were not earning money–or at least, not enough money to knock them off a state’s welfare roll, would have another child simply because they could not pass up an extra $64 a month.

Moms. They’re always thinking about their kids and money. (Tiny, negligible amounts of money.)

Right.

And now? There’s a tide of regret among women who did not earn any money while raising their young children… and end up single. Or unemployed. Or both. (See this:  Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom | By Ashley Nelson for The Nation. She didn’t “lean in.” She “leaned out.”)

In case you missed it, when a woman makes a decision to earn nothing and remain home with their children, she puts herself at a distinct and pervasive economic disadvantage upon her attempt to return to the paid workforce.

Moms. They’re always forgetting to think about the effect of their kids on their money. (Huge, life-altering amounts of money.)

Right.

Look, no matter what choice a woman makes, when it comes to her kids, or the very fact that she’s capable of bearing them–she’s going to deal with an economic consequence.

But, as Jessica Grose points out, this consequence (discrimination) is not a moms’ or women’s issue. This is a labor market issue.

Labor markets are slow to adapt–even with progressive public policy that Ashley Nelson recommends and Jessica Grose and I support. Labor markets will not evolve any faster with our collective regret over the expression of our individual preferences.

Our preferences matter. We should express them, and act on them, and yes, avoid rookie mistakes by keeping our eyes wide open–focused on our professional and personal lives, as they are now and as we want them to be.

Regret requires you to look backward. My neck is too sore.

I’m looking ahead, and around. I have no other choice.