Working Mom CEOs: Why it’s ok to be a Workable

When Carol Bartz was fired from her role as CEO of Yahoo, it made headlines. Why? CEOs are fired regularly. But her dismissal was dramatic. And, she is a woman. Women currently hold only 3% of CEO positions in fortune 500 companies. Her departure triggered obvious questions around why there are not more female CEOs. But more interestingly, her candor about the impossibility of work-life balance, for a hard-driving senior executive, inspired a PRIMARY DILEMMA moment.

In addition to being the former CEO of two major companies, she is a mother of three children. But Ms. Bartz has never proclaimed that having “balance” was even remotely possible. In an interview with MORE Magazine Ms. Bartz said that “Working parents should take a longer-term view, focusing on doing one thing well at a time, instead of seeking the perfection of a daily balance.” In many ways, this is a refreshing point of view.

This idea that working mothers cannot be all things is liberating. If, as a working mother, you have chosen to be the primary caregiver for your children and need to leave the office at 4:30pm each day, then you may have to forgive yourself for not becoming the CEO. If you have chosen career over primary childcare, then you should not feel guilt for missing your child’s hockey game.

According to the PRIMARY DILEMMA model, Carol Bartz is a Workable. She is the primary career in her family. She loves her children but is not their primary caregiver and does not beat herself up to play that role. She describes a time in her career, while her daughter was an infant, where she spent 4 days a week in California and her family was in Texas. She describes this as a very positive time because it afforded her the chance to nurture her career. Is she a bad mother? Many people would say “yes”. If she were a man, would he be characterized as a bad father? Probably not. Why do we still support this double standard?

All working mothers face the challenge of work-family balance. And based on insight from the PRIMARY DILEMMA research, the most contented working mothers adopt different methods of managing balance: 1) Workable, 2) Equalizer, 3) Fully Loaded, 4) Obliged, and 5) Parentess. There are rewards and compromises for each method.

Most importantly, we need to evolve the working mother conversation beyond “balance”. We need to be more supportive of the different choices adopted by different working women. And as working mothers, we have to be more realistic about what those choices entail. Let’s be empowered by our choices, because strong, fulfilled, engaged moms are more effective at work and raise confident, happy, and able kids.