The importance of men leaning out

August 7, 2014

Earlier this week, Max Schireson, the CEO of New York-based tech company MongoDB, wrote a post about stepping down from the top position at the company. He’s quitting, he says, to spend more time with his family. “Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don’t ask me,” he writes.

In some ways, this move isn’t terribly novel: just one guy writing briefly about his decision to become a (not-quite-so) stay-at-home dad. And perhaps there’s a bigger backstory that no one is talking about. But in this case, that’s neither here nor there. Culturally, it’s an incredibly important step. Gender equality is a balance. Sure, there’s room for a small amount of economic growth, but broadly, leadership positions are nearly zero-sum. Sure, women can slave away, clawing their way to the top, but the gender imbalances aren’t going to change broadly unless men let them in. In some instances this means hiring and promoting women, but in others it means leaning out of their careers a bit.

Nor is this a perfect example — Schireson is staying on as vice chairman and handing his CEO position over to another man — but his post also goes into detail about the importance of his wife’s career as a doctor and professor at Stanford:

[I]n addition to her clinical duties, she runs their training program for high risk obstetricians and conducts research on on prematurity, surgical techniques, and other topics. She is a fantastic mom, brilliant, beautiful, and infinitely patient with me. I love her, I am forever in her debt for finding a way to keep the family working despite my crazy travel. I should not continue abusing that patience.

The recognition that families are hard to sustain when both parents have ambitious careers is nothing new. But having the man be the one to say, “hey, I’m going to take a step back,” definitely is. And it’s refreshing.

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