Mark Zuckerberg’s Gift to Women

 

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We all know Mark Zuckerberg’s gift to the technology sector; we all have (or had, or will have) Facebook accounts. Social media is a universal connector. With Zuckerberg’s recent announcement that he will take a beautiful, wonderful four month paid paternity leave, he casts into bright light the issues of family and work-life balance in the technical industry in ways that women have hungered for for decades. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Facebook Founder has recently announced that the benefit will extend to all Facebook employees. Facebook has joined companies, many in the technology sector, in expanding parental leave benefits, and including fathers and same-sex partners. Why is this a huge boon for moms, though?

According to the Center for Talent Innovation, women are far more likely than men to leave their jobs in science and technology despite the fact that we all know that jobs in tech – especially in computer science, Zuckerberg’s very wheelhouse (and mine) are projected to grow up to three times faster than other STEM sectors.

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By declaring that his family must take a central role in his life in order to create the balance that he seeks in order to succeed, Zuckerberg has sent a shining beacon to every industry – not just tech, although this is significant for us – that such balance is essential. He is doing for men and women what we have only dreamed of in the past.

Now, before you think I am merely shouting for women’s and mothers’ family leave, I know that the U.S. still has great leaps to make in terms of addressing gender equality, and there remains a huge gap in the general gender imbalance in the tech industry at large, but here is where I see his move making a difference:

It may be that very few traditional men will follow his lead, but more women will feel comfortable establishing the primacy of their maternity leaves. But given a little time, men will take the lead. And partners will follow suit. And fewer mothers will feel obliged to behave like the Melissa Mayers of our industry, or at least fewer will feel pressured to do so. We already know that it is important to calibrate our lives to find balance, it’s just that we rarely know how to do so. I don’t want to cast aspersions on Yahoo’s Melissa Mayer, because frankly, shaming one another about our mothering decisions is SO 1990. It’s time we get over that. Enough, already. That’s not what I’m trying to do here.

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What I’m trying to do is to say that there is room for everyone at this table. I, for better or worse (I’d like to offer the opinion better here, if only because I now hold not one but two Master’s degrees, and my kids are awesome) jumped off the career track to raise my kids as a SAHM for a decade, and I loved it. During that time, I had a cottage soapmaking business, I ran the PTA, I volunteered tirelessly, and I never missed a school function. My choice. I gave up on a great many things, including stylish clothing and intelligent conversation with adults. What I did after my kids were school-aged is rev up my engines and jump back on the career track, never apologize, and here I am now, in a job I enjoy, fast-tracking myself personally and professionally. Melissa Mayer is choosing to spend fewer than her company’s offered maternity leave and instead heading back to her office a mere two weeks after what will hopefully be an uncomplicated labor and delivery very near the holidays. She is instead opting for what she calls “hard work and thoughtful prioritization.” We can hope for the best. Every family chooses the path that works for them.

Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of You Tube, wrote about this in the Wall Street Journal recently. Her own maternity leave, taken five times, “gave me a broader sense of purpose” and “a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently.”  Another specific benefit of this time that Wojcicki realized is one that Tacy Byham, CEO of Development Designs International pointed out at a fantastic networking event I attended recently (which I’ll have to cover in another post, because this one is getting too long). Wojcicki wrote that maternity leave “helped me understand the specific needs and concerns of mothers, who make most household spending decisions and control more than $2 trillion of purchasing power in the U.S.” Indeed. This is what Byham reiterated at the recent sitwithme.org  event we both attended in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago. Women, not the least of whom are employed women, control an awful lot of the spending in this country, and we are smart, informed consumers.

So let’s take a step back and review.

We need more women in STEM fields. Mark Zuckerberg just helped us open a big, giant door. We have examples of women leaders across the country, don’t we? So how did a dude help us out? Well, it’s simple, if you ask me. Twenty-one years ago, when I had my first child, I saw very little opportunity to effectively be both truly dedicated parent and truly dedicated to my job. I still think that there is a give-and-take that I perhaps would not be able to navigate. But I might be able to steer my ship more clearly through those choppy waters if I thought my partner could steer his ship, too. Alas! When parents can function as teams, when families can intertwine in such a way that it truly works – then we can truly work.

That may sound schmaltzy, but it’s true.

In addition to Tacy Byham’s great talk about women as leaders at the Red Chair “Sit With Me” event, I had the pleasure of listening to Debra Lam , the City of Pittsburgh’s Chief Innovation & Performance Officer. Debra was a dynamic speaker, and she really helped with the evening’s conclusion because she just had a baby herself – by “just had” I mean her son was one week old when she spent her evening talking with this group of women in technology. She’s that dedicated. One of her most salient points, though, was that while she is still on maternity leave, and she could have reasonably excused herself from the event that evening, she was able to be with us because she has the full support of her family. There are backup plans. Her family intertwines, and they get it. Her employer gets it. Her community gets it.

The city of Pittsburgh won’t lose a talented, gifted innovative woman in technology because we get it.

So thanks, Mark Zuckerberg, for making the conversation shift just a little bit. Even though we have a very, very long way to go, and these conversations need to trickle into every boardroom and every breakroom and every HR meeting and every hiring decision in America. I feel like you got it started.

You look very different from the guy who just wanted to get a date in the Social Network, that’s for sure.

I wonder what the Winklevoss twins think of you now?

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