Life Is Not A Science Experiment

According to Wikipedia a scientific control is an “experiment or observation designed to minimize the effects of variables other than the single independent variable. This increases the reliability of the results, often through a comparison between control measurements and the other measurements.”

I recently read the  NYTimes article “The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In” and some of the ensuing discussion such as here.

I found myself engrossed in the individual stories – all of the women profiled were very clear about what they gave up and what the cost was – also what they gained and enjoyed.  For a variety of reasons, however, the losses were looming large in their minds.  There was a lot of implied “what iff’ing” going on – as if the alternate path was knowable.

I think it is human nature to compare ourselves and our decisions with others and that comparison often leads us to feel dissatisfied with our lot in life.  That comparison can feel particularly acute if one made the explicit choice to be on their current path and is observing the benefits others are accruing from the alternate choice.  We notice the benefits of their choice and the weaknesses of our own more readily than the inverse.

I am no exception to the tendency to “what iff.”  Could I have maintained my career opportunities if I traveled less and missed fewer school events?  How would that have affected my children – would they have noticed or remembered?  Fortunately I don’t find myself “what-iff’ing” my children’s general well-being being bettered by my not working – seeing who they are and what they are doing I feel very blessed.

As many of my friends are approaching the freebird aka empty nest state, I see a big range in satisfaction among those who opted out.  In some cases without regrets and looking forward to new activities professional and/or volunteer to occupy what used to be parenting time, in other cases with decidedly more ambivalent feelings.  The decision to stay home when kids were little and their job had little flexibility v. now that kids are older and their peers are in high-level and perhaps more flexible roles than expected may put that decision in a different light.

But the truth is that it is impossible to truly know what the alternate course would have yielded.  Life is not a science experiment where all variables but one can be held constant.  With a decision such as working outside the home v. staying home full-time or even the possibilities in between, the variable is clearly not independent.  It impacts all of our relationships in immeasurable ways.  Even the financial impact cannot be known for certain.

The most interesting part of all this to me is that there is any element of surprise.  I notice a sense of unreality filtering through the NYTimes interviews.  Almost as if there was an expectation for a “storybook” outcome – actually for both the opt-in and opt-out path takers.  Perhaps this contributes to the regrets and potential dissatisfaction.

More choices and more options for working parents are sorely needed but those options will still come with tradeoffs unless there is a built-in day-extender.

There is always a road not traveled.  By definition that road is not known and it is natural to be curious what it would have been like.  But the story does not (hopefully) need to end at midlife.  I believe strongly that regardless of past choices and the inherent challenges there is the opportunity to set new goals and forward objectives and embark on a different road.


Catching a Wave

When I wrote about my transition recently, I mentioned my excitement about the possibility of working with up-and-coming startups and helping them develop their products and businesses.  I also can’t seem to ever get enough of the productivity tool space – (e.g. Yahoo! Mail, Netscape Communicator, SugarSync – I’m hooked!)  I get a thrill seeing how these tools and technologies can improve people’s lives.  So when the founders of Catch asked me to consult with them as acting CEO I was thrilled to jump in.

I’m so impressed with what this small team has accomplished.  They have an absolutely gorgeous app – so beautiful that Apple has it plastered all over their home page, store and headquarters.    applehqCatch is at the intersection of some of the most exciting trends in technology – mobile, collaboration, ideation, search, cloud and b.y.o.d.   At the same time, Catch, like many early-stage, technology driven companies, has yet to figure out and implement its long-term business model.

So what is Catch?  Catch is a mobile-based collaborative note taking application.  While simple note-taking functionality a la Evernote or Google Keep is great, I believe that notes achieve their true power as the most natural basis for collaboration.  We see this clearly in the usage patterns of Catch – all kinds of business teams sharing notes to manage projects, update status – even manage field sales teams.  And the best part is it’s super light-weight, intuitive and easy-to-use.

Having a couple of months off to enjoy my family (including my east-coast children), reconnect with friends, read, hike and recharge has been great but not a long-term state for me, at least not now.  I love my work and feel fortunate to have been connected to Catch and for this timing to work out.

Some exciting things in the works here that you’ll be hearing about in the weeks ahead – stay tuned!

Working From Home

The recent Yahoo policy banning working from home has become quite controversial spawning many articles and even a highway 101 billboard.  Over the years I’ve managed teams using a range of policies so I have some definite views about what works and what doesn’t in different situations.  And that is the key point…this is not a one size fits all theory but one that is specific to the business and it’s situation at the time.

It wasn’t so long ago that we did not have the tools to make working from home practical.   As I’ve written about here previously, in my early days at Informix – pre laptop, pre internet at home, I would need to go back to the office to work in the evening or weekends.  Those tools and technologies enhanced by web and video conferencing allow us to be extremely effective even when not in the office.

I’ve experienced varying degrees of remote work effectiveness during my career.  When I was at Netscape (post IPO 97-03), the success of the Mozilla project and browser development in general was strongly impacted by key developers who worked remotely.  Their talents would become obvious from their open source contributions and either they would participate long term as key volunteers or in several cases we hired them as employees.  Most of those individuals stayed working in their locations as far away as Europe and New Zealand.  We also had some star employees who had to move out of the area for personal reasons.  What made these situations work well was the proven talent and work ethic of these individuals plus the open source infrastructure to manage their contributions and assess their performance.  There was a critical mass of remote employees that meant that large group meetings were always set up with dial-in numbers and managers were trained to facilitate.  We even had one director who effectively managed a multi-location team from Boulder.  That being said, most employees were in the office most of the time and it was a very collaborative culture.

My next role, ironically given the impetus for this post was at Yahoo.  I was there from 2003-2004 – during the heyday.  It is interesting to note that people rarely worked from home during that time.

When I got to Check Point to manage the Zone Labs division I inherited a very liberal work from home policy.  In addition, Wednesday and Friday were supposed to be “no-meetings” days.   Early on my manager Eyal Desheh expressed concern about the productivity and work ethic of the team.  My first assumption was that he didn’t understand Silicon Valley culture and how this could actually work.  Unfortunately, his warnings were correct.  The issue wasn’t the work from home as much as a lack of drive related to many typical post acquisition HR issues.  The work ethic issues were far from universal but they were contagious and affected everyone and working from home accentuated the problems.  I quickly changed the work from home policy for the people who reported to me.  The “no meetings” policy was changed to not apply to my team nor managers in the engineering organization and it eventually fell away (although managing the amount of time spent in meetings, particularly for engineers is critical).  The transition was difficult and created lots of handwringing but it improved productivity quickly and morale soon after.

When I started at SugarSync I was glad to see that our culture was one of people working primarily in the office.  In January of 2009 we were 13 people – the challenge was great to just get the job done with such a small team.  We couldn’t afford missteps anoffice spaced missed communication and collaboration possibilities by not being together.  We kept that policy going as we hired – it is much easier if the ground rules are clear from the start.  We designed our new office to be a very open setup to foster collaboration.

This didn’t mean it was easy – SugarSync has several people commuting long distances.  We always have had flextime – working slightly earlier or later schedules to avoid the traffic but still we were generally in the office together during the main part of the day.  Of course this doesn’t mean we didn’t recognize that people have life issues that require occasional work from home – a sick child, dentist appointments, plumbing emergencies but those are the exception not the norm.

For a startup in a fast moving industry such as the cloud, the work environment is dynamic and high-pressure.  Challenging problems require creativity and quick teamwork to solve.  I believe we were much more effective at SugarSync by being together.  As the team grew the learning curve was shortened dramatically for newcomers working alongside the experienced people.  Once people were working in our environment and saw the benefits of close proximity and collaboration they understood why it was needed and embraced it.  One of my favorite questions to ask new hires was what surprised them the most about SugarSync – a frequent answer was how they thought we were a much larger team than we in fact were.  I think this was a reflection of the team’s productivity.

Is it always better to be together in the office?  For certain tasks that require extended, uninterrupted time, working away from the office can be more productive (assuming you have an appropriate environment for concentration at the alternate location).  Some roles, like sales or field support by their nature are not in the office.  Many people have critical points in time where they need more time away from the office perhaps due to a health or other personal issue for them or a family member.  Allowing them to work remotely allows key people to stay with the company and maintain project continuity.

So what’s my net on this important debate?  For me it’s clear.  If at all possible, have the team primarily working together in the office during work hours.  If there are critical hires you can only make (or keep) it might be worth considering exceptions recognizing the consequences and need to manage around them.  For a company in crisis or a turnaround situation (like Yahoo) or where there is reason to believe there are productivity issues (again like Yahoo) having everyone much more together in the office may be one of the keys to the turnaround.   For a fast growing startup in a very intense space requiring collaboration and team problem solving working in the office together is important.

Does this make juggling work and personal life less easy – perhaps.  This is why companies need to be reasonably consistent.  If the reports of Marissa Mayer’s in the office nursery are true I would find that to be insensitive to the other parents of babies who are coming to the office without that close access.  We must, after all,  lead by example.  The example that I tried to set was to work hard and collaborate together during the workday.  When not in a crunch time, to leave early enough to have a few hours, including dinner, with the family and then, if needed, get back on line after the kids went to bed (or were doing their homework independently).    As managers and leaders we need to figure out what works best for our businesses and our teams.  These observations are what I have found to be most effective.

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Beware of the False Dichotomy

When I was in business school I was preparing for an interview and one of the career counselors gave me this piece of advice – “beware of the false dichotomy”.  The example she used was a typical interview question – “are you creative or analytical?”  It’s easy to fall prey to the trap and pick one.  It’s particularly easy as we often place ourselves in these traps ourselves – even though there is absolutely no reason one cannot be both creative AND analytical.  I see this with children as well – Mary is the “studious” child and her brother John is “athletic” or “social”.  Of course we know perfectly well that there is no inherent conflict between these traits and, in fact, they can be mutually reinforcing.

I see this phenomenon in the workplace.  A person or team has multiple priorities they need to juggle – perhaps projects for multiple customers or different products – and of course not enough time and resources.  When we are problem solving the situation I will often hear the request for me to choose one of the competing projects for them to do.  While I may be able to indicate which has higher priority, the reality may be that all the projects on the employee’s plate need to be done to meet the business need.  Few businesses are successful with one customer (or customer segment) or even one product.  Success requires this juggling of multiple priorities.    That does not mean we do not set limits.  Too much juggling and our attention and therefore quality of work lets down.  Nevertheless, managing competing priorities is part of life – we can fight it or embrace the variety and challenge.

Moms working Full Time – the Norm not the Exception

Since a picture’s worth a thousand words this blog post can be short.  Take a look at this chart from the US Department of Health and Human Services website:

Many, many American women to the tune of 10’s of millions are today working full-time while caring for their children under 18.  This number has increased nearly 50% in the last 40 years.

The attention drawn by the Anne Marie Slaughter piece and others are distracting people from this reality.  Most mothers “have it all”, not a mythical idealized “all” but a sleeplessly busy “all” of full-time work as a key breadwinner for the family and loving care of their children.  For many the work is fulfilling and enjoyable, for some it isn’t, just as it ranges for men.

Don’t be fooled by Atlantic headlines or even perhaps your social circle.  The question is not if but how.  And that’s where we should focus our energies – not in debating the “if” but in solving the “how”.  How can we make sure these parents and families live in a society and community that provides the structure and support needed for their health and happiness.

Nobody Has it All – But It’s Possible to Have a Family and Rewarding Career

A recent article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter entitled “Why we Still Can’t Have it All” has garnered considerable attention and controversy on the net.  I’ve been meaning to comment – frankly last week was too busy – now that I’m on vacation for a few days I wanted to reflect on this as it’s a topic near and dear to my heart.

The author starts with an example of a work/parenting dilemma that she faces – she is in a very high-powered position which has taken her away from her children, and she’s not living with them during the week.  One of the children is going through some normal but stressful adolescent challenges and she is feeling quite torn being far from him.  As a result she gives up the “high-power” position for what she considers to be a “non-high powered” position as a tenured professor at Princeton.

The fundamental problem is that she postulates a “have it all” fantasy which implies that life has no limits or tradeoffs.  There are no constraints of space nor of time.  Of course problems in life occur because these constraints exist. And, by the way, they exist for both men and women.

Tradeoffs exist and choices must be made in all parts of life.  We are always making these choices with regards to where we spend our money – home, education, necessities, splurge items, etc.  I can’t have it “all” and must make tradeoffs even though I am quite lucky and have all that I need and much that I want.  Similarly with food – moderation, balance and a bit of self-discipline are key.

Time is no different – it is not limitless.  For women and men who want to have high-powered careers and be an involved parent – especially during the busiest parenting years, that will probably be about it on the big time commitment front.  Those two activities are consuming.  Personally I didn’t find this a huge loss.  My career and children were so rewarding that the clubs and non-profits – while worthwhile – were skipable.  Social life also is more limited than for someone who isn’t balancing both family and career.

How high-powered is high-powered enough?  Just because being a tenured professor at Princeton is not high-powered enough for Slaughter doesn’t mean that that logic should be applied to all women – I suspect that it would be seen as a pretty awesome level of accomplishment for most.  But even if not – maybe it’s a matter of timing.  Skills and opportunity aside, I’m not so sure I could have juggled being CEO of SugarSync 15 years ago with 4 young children.  That’s ok with me – I’m enjoying doing it now.

What about business travel?  That is where the rubber meets the road (or more accurately where the s—t hits the fan) for many working parents.  I did find this very challenging – I had international responsibilities for much of my career.  In some cases I took the kids.  I couldn’t fathom living apart so moved them with me to Brazil.  When they were infants I took them with me on business trips.    Beyond this my husband and I tried as best to juggle our trips such that we weren’t both gone at the same time and when we were, we were lucky enough that my mother-in-law (expert work/family juggler herself) was able to take care of the kids for us.  I know many successful professional women who made medium-term job choices to limit travel.  Certain professions (e.g., management consulting) have so much travel baked in that perhaps bigger changes are needed, though I know of many successful management consultant moms who take short term research assignments or focus on local clients.

The point that I hope is coming through here is that much is possible.  It takes tradeoffs, some number of years of less than ideal amounts of sleep but, in my opinion, the rewards are worth it.  Some situations seem to go beyond what feels like possible.  Slaughter’s situation of living apart from a teenager feels impossible to me – I certainly couldn’t do it.  I certainly don’t know if there were other solutions she could have explored.  Could they all have moved to Washington? That might have worked on the family connection but not for the children’s school – I don’t know.

But what I do know is that for our family that situation is not a gender issue.  I cannot imagine my husband being able to live apart from our kids for more than a few months.  He did it when we were in Brazil and that was very difficult for our family.  I knew when I went there it was not long-term without him.  Both my husband and I have been contacted by recruiters about some jobs in LA that would require commuting and being home only on the weekend.  We turned them down without much remorse, confident that we could find something we enjoyed close to our children.  I do not find that the absence of some extreme choices has overshadowed the many choices and opportunities I’ve had.

None of my views on the above changes my opinion that there are still barriers that should not exist and changes that should be made.

Childcare is a huge issue – both availability and cost.  When I started my first job at Informix and Steve was in Law School >50% of our after-tax income went towards childcare.  Things were pretty tight!  I agree with Slaughter’s point about re-valuing facetime.  The work/family juggle is made more doable if you can finish up a project at home after the kids go to bed rather than in the office from 6-8.  More women in leadership? I agree with that too (no surprise).  Policy and management changes to support this juggle are important to both men and women.  I don’t see that as a women’s issue but rather a family issue.

One other place where I take strong issue with Slaughter’s recommendations is around timing.  Yes, I think we should take the long view of careers and I recognize that we will likely work longer and that there are differing stages of one’s career where one may be more “pedal to the metal” than others.  The one place were we tend to have less flexibility though, is timing of having children.  I’ve seen way too many women friends and colleagues who decided to wait, have to put their bodies through a hormonal wringer or, worse, suffer heartbreak and disappointment in not being able to have any or the number of children they want.  Partnership or tenure or VP jobs can be done later with perhaps some extra sweat equity.  Women’s bodies are simply less flexible on this.  Loss of fertility is quite dramatic in the early 30’s – see here and here. If a woman at 32 had a couple of children and was upset that she missed out on some key promotion – I would tell her to redouble her efforts, find a new company, start a company – basically the opportunity is still in front of you.  If that same woman at 42 had the plum job but wanted and was unable to have children, the only response would be one of consolation.

I do not believe early motherhood needs to be the death knell of one’s career.  At 30 a woman can easily have 40 more years of  her career in front of her – lots of opportunity to make up for any lost time.   I do object to the focus on youth accomplishments – in part because it puts women in a poor choice situation.

It’s not easy nor as common as I’d like to see, but I don’t think the women who are both mothers and top professionals are, as Slaughter says, only those who are “superhuman, rich, or self-employed.”  If they are a top-professional, they may not be rich though they probably can afford good childcare.  Self-employment can be a great option but I don’t believe it is the only one.  I find that those women who do do both are determined to do both, a bit flexible and while not super-human, very hard working.  I believe many women can aspire to this combination.

It Gets Better (Or at Least Easier)

I had a couple of conversations recently that got me thinking about this topic and I wanted to share my experience. Inspired by the “It Gets Better” movement and idea – I thought it applies significantly to stages in life and that really knowing and internalizing that it does get better might lead people to different decision.

I was at an offsite business meeting recently with Drew Garcia (SugarSync VP of Product Management) and Jason Mikami (VP of Operations). It was a beautiful Friday morning. While waiting for the meeting to start we were chatting about the great weather and I mentioned that my husband and I had enjoyed the gorgeous morning by going for an early hike at the Stanford Dish. They both looked at me incredulously – how did we manage such a thing with the kids. By way of background Drew has two children – newborn and two year old and Jason has a four year old. They are both very busy – of course with their work at SugarSync, in addition, Drew’s wife works as a management consultant at The Trium Group, and Jason and his wife have an award-winning winery that they manage.

I assured them that Steve and I were not exercising together before work when our kids were little. Our mornings then, like their mornings now, were completely crazy just getting ourselves and kids out the door to work and school. What I realized is that since they are totally in the midst of this intensive parenting/juggling mode they can’t even imagine a future beyond it. It is such an immersive, consuming experience that I just think it is human nature to feel like it will go on that way forever.

In my case it wasn’t forever but it was a long time. My oldest son is 26 and my youngest son just turned old enough (16) to drive himself. With four kids and a big age range it has been 26 years of responsibility for kids that needed morning driving. No wonder it seemed like forever. And it was many years of juggling, lack of sleep, and rushing…all the challenges that working parents experience. But amazingly enough, I blinked and that time is nearly over. I’m lucky when I get a kiss goodbye from my son in the morning – he is super independent. And for many working parents who have their children in a shorter period of time, it goes by even faster. On the other hand, I feel like I still have a potentially long professional career in front of me. Both of my parents and my father-in-law are still practicing physicians in their 70’s. My Great Uncle retired from the law at 98! I hope that my best work is ahead of me. Bottom line, I’m looking forward to that work and am glad that I slogged through that time when the juggling meant very very little “me” time.

So this is a reminder, to those in the heat of it. It gets better, or at least easier. Stick with it – you have much to contribute not only to your families but professionally as well.

SugarSync, Shared Folders and a Wedding

We’re in the home stretch of wedding planning for my son Todd.  He is marrying his high school sweetheart and we couldn’t be more thrilled.  We adore Emmanuelle and her family.  But this post is not about gushing about love, romance and wedding bells, it’s about spreadsheets, photo editing, and logistics.

Planning a wedding involves lots of coordination and logistics.  All of this is a little more complicated given modern day lifestyles.  Todd and Emmanuelle (Emu) live in Pittsburgh where they are attending medical school.  Emmanuelle’s parents and we live in the Bay Area near the wedding location but all four parents are working full time – not easy to get together in-person for projects and planning.

The cloud and SugarSync are definitely helping manage in this environment.  An example is the video we want to make for the rehearsal dinner.  Our idea (not original) is to do a photo montage, set to music with photos of both Todd and Emu growing up then pictures of them together.  I set up a shared folder in SugarSync for all the pictures.  We’re all working on our subsets – culling down to a reasonable number (not easy as we like looking at the cute baby pictures but there is some limit to what the guests want to see), ordering etc.  The nice thing is that we can do this at any time, even offline (e.g. for us on the plane home from Italy) and it will all sync.  Working with the photo files and filenames on the local machine is a lot more convenient then pure cloud but in the end the cloud is doing the coordination and synchronization for us.

Spreadsheets, table assignments, todo lists are all being handled the same way. Ditto for copies of budgets, files, contracts.  Using the cloud and SugarSync.  The one thing we are doing via Google docs (to allow for simultaneous multi-person editing of a single file) is the RSVP tracking.  I must say that while it works well for that use case it is a good reminder that I won’t be doing a lot of independent spreadsheets in Google docs anytime soon.  Much less responsive and a hassle work with compared with Excel (more on that in another post) but the comparison was useful.

There are lots of online wedding planning tools but having planned many events including 4 bar/bat mitzvahs and my eldest son’s wedding what works best for me is to use my general work tools Office, iLife, email plus the cloud.  Have you planned any events using the cloud? What has worked best for you?

Luck or Skill?

Several months ago I wrote a post about Performance or Potential.  It was a response to a research report finding that women are promoted based on performance, and men based on potential.

I believe we’re seeing a corollary to that type of thinking in a recent NY Times article about Sheryl Sandberg.  While a good chunk of the article was positive, the following section had a decidedly negative tone:

“Some say her aim-high message is a bit out of tune. Everyone agrees she is wickedly smart. But she has also been lucky, and has had powerful mentors along the way. After Harvard and Harvard Business School, she quickly rose from a post as an economist at the World Bank to become the chief of staff for Lawrence H. Summers, then the Treasury secretary. After that, she jumped to Google and, in 2008, to Facebook.

She is married to Dave Goldberg, a successful entrepreneur and the C.E.O. of SurveyMonkey, which enables people to create their own Web surveys. She doesn’t exactly have to worry about money. Or child care. (She and her husband have two young children.)

To some, Ms. Sandberg seems to suggest that women should just work harder while failing to acknowledge that most people haven’t had all the advantages that she’s had… ‘“I think she’s had a golden path herself, and perhaps does not more readily understand that the real struggles are not having children or ambition,” Ms. Hewlett continued. “Women are, in fact, fierce in their ambition, but they find that they’re actually derailed by other things, like they don’t have a sponsor in their life that helps them go for it.’”

The Atlantic had a great article that pointed out a double standard – why is luck even brought up here when it is rarely mentioned in similar articles about successful men in business?

In addition to agreeing with the content in the Atlantic article, I started thinking about all those “lucky” women (including me) who also went to Harvard Business School. What has become of them?  How many of us are there and what are we doing now?

I went into the HBS alumni directory for my class -‘88 (Sheryl is ‘95) and did a bit of informal research.  The class of ‘88 is about 25% women.  It’s hard to know exactly but judging by how many list a job in the directory it appears that about half of the women are working outside the home.  The next question is how many of that working group have children.  This is tricky, as it’s not listed explicitly.   For my husband Steve and my two sections (where we know and are in touch with many of the people) it seems to be that approximately half of the “working half” have children.

What can we conclude from this?  Well it turns out that the “luck” of going to HBS does not alone make one worth $1.6B while being married with two kids.  In fact, and on a very serious note, it is a minority of those lucky HBS attendees that are even in the demographic category of doing what she is doing – working full time while raising young children, not to mention achieving her extraordinary level of success.

Given the fact that so many of the HBS women graduates are not working, I believe the messages she has been delivering at TED and in the Barnard commencement speech are highly relevant to this group.  Be proud, be ambitious, stay in the game.  I also can’t help but wonder about her point that the successful women are less well-liked then successful men as many of my career-oriented female classmates are not married.  We need to work to change this in our society.

Another sore point for me in this NY Times article is the implication that having a high income means that you don’t have to worry about childcare.  Of course, the challenge is even greater for the working poor and even middle class but I know of no mother, regardless of income level, who does not worry about childcare. Finding the right childcare, dealing with transitions, worrying if all is ok at home.   Managing a high-powered career while parenting young children is simply hard work leaving not a lot of free time or sleep for Sheryl or anyone else.  That’s why I believe that changes in business and government policies such as parental leave for both parents are so important.  Plus, role modeling, showing working new moms that it can be managed and our children can thrive, is critical as well.

In her Barnard address Sheryl said that our generation of women hasn’t broken through to the CEO level in great enough numbers despite the good fortune of education.  The HBS class of 1980 was 20% women and they are at prime CEO age.  We certainly do not have 20% penetration in the large company CEO ranks – for instance only 18 of the Fortune 500.  What needs to change to increase these numbers?  That is a huge topic and inevitably will involve many elements both individual and societal but the suggestions Sheryl makes in her speeches can only help.

I hope I have the humility to appreciate my good fortune and the friends and family who have helped me along the way.  I’ve talked about many of those people, in particularly my husband and parents, in this blog.  My education was a gift from my parents – I hope they know how much I appreciate it.  My husband has truly been a partner in all aspects of my life.  SugarSync is a team effort by all of the employees, investors and executive team.  But nobody but me walked out the door in the morning and returned to work with a six week old sleeping sweetly at home.  Nobody was in my head as I lay awake figuring out how to solve a business problem or woke up with an early alarm to finish a project before getting the kids off to school.  I take pride in what I have done to bring SugarSync to the place it is today and will be proud of us achieving even more success in the future.  I’m even prouder of my children and the people they are.  I hope that the lens through which these accomplishments are viewed will be less biased than the lens trained on Sheryl now.

It is a privilege, and perhaps even lucky, to have professional parents, a great education and generous mentors.  What the numbers and common sense show, however, is that what is noteworthy for Sheryl Sandberg and what is deserving of coverage in the NY Times and elsewhere is not her luck, but her hard work, talent, drive and contributions.

Benefits to Kids of Career Mom (part two)

A key part of parenting is being a role model for your children.  I believe that one of the reasons I have been comfortable with my decision to work full-time while my children are growing up is that that is what I saw my mother do.  I never felt like it was a negative having a mom who worked.  In fact I was (am) proud of her and even felt special talking about her work in school and with my friends.  I think its no coincidence that my husband is comfortable with this situation as well – his mother worked – at first as a teacher, then as an attorney, then as a college professor and part-time judge.  In fact my mother is still working, half of her time as medical-director of a drug rehabilitation program and part time seeing patients in the office.

So part of this cycle relates to our daughters and daughters-in-law.  Do we want them to feel empowered to and comfortable pursuing a career?  Do we want them to be financially self-sufficient?  Independent even if they never marry or something happens to their husband or marriage?

Beyond role modeling there is also the exposure to mom’s specific career.  In my case – with both my parents as physicians that exposure was not as much about business but I certainly learned a lot about medicine.  I learned how doctor’s offices were run, I learned about many diseases and treatments because my parents discussed medical issues, including answering our questions, frequently around the dinner table.  I worked two summers in a nursing home where my dad was medical director.  Had I wanted to be a doctor this would have been a huge leg up.

In our house, the dinner table discussions about our day are much more about business – how Steve and I are building our companies, what issues are we facing.  It is a great opportunity for the kids to learn about what life is like in a silicon valley company and how we handle the issues of the day.  In our house they have 2 sources of this information.   As the kids became teenagers these conversations were great for me too as they are discerning consumers of technology!  I’ll never forget the evening while I was working for Yahoo – we had just started hearing the rumors of the impending launch of Gmail with unlimited storage – Yahoo was still offering 5mb (yes the “m” is correct).  Todd quickly pronounced that we would lose all our customers if we didn’t up our offer!

I think it is no accident that two of the very small number of Fortune 500 women CEO’s grew up in the same household as sisters.  They were brought up on a diet of business skills and were encouraged early on to be ambitious.  All of my children have spent time in my offices over the years.  Mostly brief visits – stopping in while I catch up on a few things.  Todd and Margot actually did some office and tech support work during summers – I think this is a great chance to learn about the business world.

More generally, I think my children got an extra dose of independence training – starting young with getting dressed and making school lunches themselves to starting homework and problem solving after school.  I believe their nannies and (in Derek’s case) daycare experiences exposed them to new people and ideas and challenged and therefore developed their communication skills.  At a more subtle level I think that seeing a mom as a working person confirms for children the sense that people—especially women—are multidimensional. Studies have also shown that both boys and girls have more egalitarian attitudes towards marriage, family and men and women’s roles when their mothers were employed which could help their future marital happiness.  Finally, I believe that having a working mom helps prepare children for their future where both they and their spouses are statistically likely to both be working.