It's not everyday that the successful head of a rapidly growing, billion dollar company decides to step down in favor of a less demanding role.
But that's exactly what happened on Tuesday, when Max Schireson, CEO of the lucrative database startup MongoDB, announced that he would be giving up his position — and the potential wealth therein — in order to spend more time with his wife and three kids.
Schireson explained the decision in a personal, "aw"-inducing blog post titled "Why I am leaving the best job I ever had" [emphasis ours]:
Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo's female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.While the press haven't asked me, it is a question that I often ask myself.
How refreshing is it to see a conversation about work-life balance that doesn't revolve around demonizing successful women for their career choices?
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Schireson goes on to talk about his love for playing backgammon with his kids, the stress of CEO travel (he was "on pace to fly 300,000 miles this year") and the infinite patience of his equally high-powered wife, "a doctor and professor at Stanford."
Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don't ask me. ...
I recognize that by writing this I may be disqualifying myself from some future CEO role. Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday? Maybe. Life is about choices. Right now, I choose to spend more time with my family and am confident that I can continue to have an meaningful and rewarding work life while doing so. At first, it seemed like a hard choice, but the more I have sat with the choice the more certain I am that it is the right choice.
According to Forbes, Schireson reached his decision in part after a traumatic flight: "The CEO woke up in Tucson to discover his flight had gone through an emergency landing and needed to replace some crew members traumatized by the experience—all while he slept, desperately trying to catch up on rest."
Schireson told Forbes, "In that moment, I realized, 'What am I doing?'"
Good for him. Schireson seems to be doing the best thing for himself and his family, and that is completely commendable. But this isn't about lauding a man for addressing something that many women grapple with all the time.
Schireson is correct in pointing out that questions of whether or not one can truly "have it all" are almost always asked in relation to the context of women's lives. Women who devote themselves to their work may unfairly be deemed selfish or bad mothers, whereas their male counterparts may simply get called ambitious. This gendered thinking does a disservice to both parents, as it punishes women for trying to get ahead while inhibiting fathers from spending more time with their families (a practice that, if encouraged, might also make their partner's lives easier). In short, it preserves a status quo that pressures men to aim higher and women to stay at home.
Schireson is certainly lucky to have the options he does. But one would hope thoughtful actions like his will draw attention to the fact that both mothers and fathers may struggle with balancing work with family.
Schireson will be remaining with the company in a vice chairman role. You can read his full blog post here.