There are two women whom I have been decidedly happy to read about in the recent past. They are Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and Marissa Mayer, ex-Google employee no.20 and presently CEO, Yahoo!
Sandberg and the Shattered Glass Ceiling
Sandberg, a mother of two children and Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, obviously holds major clout in the tech world. She has recently though come to hold even more clout in the mommy world with her “higher, harder, faster” mantra for female empowerment. [Watch her TED talk on “Why we have too few women leaders“]
Sandberg caused a sensation when she announced that she left her high powered job at Facebook promptly at 5:30PM each evening so she could be home for dinner with her kids. But the fact that she’s been able to do this in a company such as Facebook is not the most interesting point. What’s more interesting is that she only feels comfortable publicly admitting it now.
“I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids. I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it’s not until the last year, two years, that I’m brave enough to talk about it publicly. Now I certainly wouldn’t lie, but I wasn’t running around giving speeches on it.”
The stigma of a woman (or man) leaving work on time has been ingrained in our rat race brains for so long, that just the mere fact that one high powered woman is doing this has caused such an uproar!
Every sane person will admit to the fact that quality of life is better when you are giving time to the things that are important in your life. If running Facebook’s operating functions is important to Sandberg, obviously she’s giving it time. But so is spending dinner time with her family. Which is not so say that her work day actually ends at 5:30pm for she admits to checking mail after her kids are asleep, but hey, if that works for her and her family that it’s a solution.
Kinda throws the whole work-life balance equation out the window doesn’t it? Sandberg herself has admitted the following:
“There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance” – Sheryl Sandberg
Although I would probably go a step further and say “there’s just life” – work is obviously just a subset of life, so there can be no balance between a subset and its superset.
Marissa, Maternity and Mommyhood
If you thought Sandberg was causing revolutions, wait till you hear what Marissa Mayer dared to do. Slighted by the Google board and her ex-boyfriend Larry Page (co-founder of Google), Marissa accepted an offer to head the flailing Yahoo! Inc. But again, that’s not the shocking part of the story. Hours after the announcement came through, she made another, equally stunning announcement of being pregnant with her first child, making her the first pregnant woman to head a Fortune 500 company! (Since then she’s delivered a healthy baby boy on Sept 30th 2012).
Mayer wrote that she expects she’ll be working throughout her maternity leave. Oh the audacity! The nerve. The sheer stupidity some might say. [Read this wonderful and long article: Can Marissa Mayer Really Have it All?]
I say good on her! She knew perfectly well that this news would get people to sit up and take notice of the announcement from a whole new perspective. She knew that her pregnancy announcement combined with the CEO news would make it top fodder for news organizations and would spread like wildfire. She knew that business people and mothers across the world would be interested. She was right. Now I’m just waiting for her to get rid of the grammar-palpitation-inducing exclamation point at the end of Yahoo! and life will be less confusing 🙂
Mayer has now joined the ranks of a “work at home mom”! The woman who is responsible for giving us the Google home page – the iconic minimalist search page – is now a WAHM. Wow.
[Update Feb 27: Marissa Mayer recently banned Yahoo! employees from working from home. See my take on this development here: Marissa Mayer’s PR Mistake]
Do Sandberg and Mayer Represent You and Me?
You know some people (like those who like to play devil’s advocate) might say that these two women are exceptions to the rule. That they already had money to begin with. That they got Ivy League educations. That they have both worked at Google. And so they were always destined to be role models. But I disagree. The glass ceiling for women has always been stuck at the work life balance equation. And not always because employers set it there, but mostly because women themselves set it there. They want to do it all, be it all, have it all, and they know that to be “perfect” they must achieve that delicate balance between “work” and what is ironically enough called “life”. But life here is just a euphemism for “not work”.
So in reality what balance are we women really striving for? The balance between work and not work? Again the definition of work is different for many people. For example, for me dusting is work. Cooking is sometimes work. Laundry is helluva lot of work. But writing blog posts? Conjuring up social media plans? Outlining content strategies? That’s not work for me – that’s fun! That’s the the stuff I actually enjoy doing. I’d rather be beating my head against an article deadline than folding laundry, and although I do both, I must admit I enjoy one more than the other.
So where’s my balance? Indeed its a tricky question. For now I am content to throw the term “work life balance” out the window and contend myself with the fact that work is life and life is work. And as long as it’s what I really want to do, then I’m living the life I want.
To sum it up, I leave you with a quote from the excellent Forbes article on the work life balance myth written by Lisa Quast:
“Life is filled with peaks and valleys where we will spend more time in certain pursuits at different times in our lives. Instead of worrying that we’re not in perfect balance, we should celebrate the times when we’re off balance – as these are usually the times when we learn the most.”