Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In movement demonstrated that Millennial women are eager to have conversations about the work-life balance and whether women can be both successful at home and at work.
Yet, for the most part, these discussions revolve around men leaning back. That in order for women to have it all, their men must somehow compromise their careers. Even Sandberg’s husband, David Goldberg, adjusted his career aspirations to support her path.
Ultimately, there are no men out there proclaiming to be a high-flying King of Wall Street who is also the Father Of The Year.
Rather, Millennial men seemingly have two options: the corporate titan who spends little time with his children. Or the dad who scaled back on his career to stay at home, and inevitably ends up blogging about his children. Even Millennial icon Mark Zuckerberg , who is married to Harvard-educated doctor Priscilla Chan, has said he plans to cut back on his work duties once he becomes a father.
So the question remains, it is possible for Millennial men to be the next Zuckerberg, Jaime Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein and still be a hands-on father? And if so, where is this Stanley Sandberg?
If women have Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer as role models, where is their male counterpart?
Now, this discussion will never have a clear answer, but it illustrates that this work-life debate is just as complicated for men as women and is likely to never be resolved because there are too many qualifiers.
First, Sheryl Sandberg is a unicorn, says Shullman Research’s Bob Shullman who studies generational and family dynamics. While she may be an inspiration for many Millennial women, her point-of-view and experiences are so unusual and unique, that it is unlikely for men to have someone similar represent them. Not only would this person need to serve as the perfect ideal for a diverse group of men, he also would need and want to promote himself in that manner. Many men would feel there isn’t enough money in the world to put themselves under that microscope.
Secondly, it is important to note that most high-profile male CEOs aren’t married to similarly positioned women. Serial entrepreneur Dennis Cunningham, for instance, admits he wouldn’t be as successful at work without the support of his family. “It takes great teamwork to make it happen. I wouldn’t be where I am without my wife,” says the CEO and Founder of www.Airtab.me and CEO and chairman of Perfect Vodka.
Third, men and women define “having it all” in distinctly different manners.
“Men think having it all means they make it to dinner each night,” says Shullman. “Women think having it all means they are actually making the meal.”
And although workplace equality has progressed in recent years, women are still most likely the primary parent, adding another layer of complication to this “having it all” debate. As such, when kids are sick, chances are mom gets the call and must leave to pick them up. Dad may occasionally come to the rescue, but the default parent for these matters is typically mom.
In fact, workplace stereotypes still hold true, particularly in traditional corporate offices. Women are afforded more leeway and acceptance when it comes to parental responsibilities. Marissa Mayer, for instance, was applauded when she set up a nursery in her office, yet would her male counterpart have received similar accolades?
Indeed, the concept of “‘having it all’ is the problem, says Women Unlimited’s CEO Rosina Racioppi. “We need to be having the conversation over what men and women want in life. Some men want C-suite careers while others may want less high-pressure careers so they can coach Little League. When I look outside to others, their lives may not be full in my estimate, but may be full in theirs. It becomes a slippery slope when it becomes a judgment call.”
Instead, this debate needs to be reframed. “It’s more important to talk about values and what someone wants in life rather than these either-or scenarios,” says Racioppi. “What if someone doesn’t want children? Does that mean they aren’t successful? We shouldn’t just focus this debate on career and children.”
Lastly, there’s the matter of accountability. There are few ways to measure if these successful executives are indeed successful parents and vice versa. These executives may claim they are great parents, but who is talking to their children? And as Racioppi points out, being the CEO isn’t necessarily the only way to measure career success and having it all isn’t always about being a parent and corporate titan.
Still, there are a few Millennial men who are attempting to be both hands-on parents and are successful under so-called traditional metrics, including earning high incomes and widespread respect. Millennial Charlie Harary, for instance, has a law degree, co-founded an venture capital firm, and teaches at Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University, all while raising five children.
The key to men having it all is not balance, but presence. “It isn’t about quantity but quality,” says Harary. “If I only have five minutes with my son, then it is going to be the best five minutes and I am going to put away my phone and distractions and concentrate on being with him.”
In fact, the secret to having it all may be commitment.
Rather the secret for men to have it all isn’t about balance, but to commit to either work or home. Women, by contrast, tend to try to meld both of their worlds.
Men, on the other hand, may benefit from constructing barriers to achieve this sort of balance. Harary, for instance, is an Orthodox Jew who unplugs for the Sabbath, requiring him to step away from technology and work to spend time with his family. Even though is beliefs mandate this separation between work and home, he claims all men could benefit from something similar. “There’s no question that I have to step away [from work] so there is no guilt. But it also shows me that life does go on. There are times when there is a major deal happening at 6 p.m. on Friday night and I have to tell everyone that I am done. I just have to leave. And they understand and we start back up Monday morning. I have yet to have anything negative happen from taking one day off.”
Still, while Sheryl Sandberg continues to inspire millions of women to seek the elusive work-life balance, it remains to be seen whether any male will represent Millennial men’s Stanley Sandberg.