Jul 08

Gender Questions for Female CEOs: Redux

Roger Bolton

Last week, I commented on the controversial interview of GM CEO Mary Barra by Matt Lauer on The Today Show, in which she was asked questions that are never asked of male CEOs about work-life balance issues.

Over the weekend, I stumbled across this report of another interview of a female CEO in which work-life balance was again front and center.  In fact, in his interview of Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Atlantic Media Company (parent of “The Atlantic” magazine) Chairman David Bradley started and ended the interview with the focus on Nooyi’s struggles to balance her family responsibilities with her demanding job.  At least Lauer saved these questions until the end.

To be fair to Bradley, the announced topic of the interview with Nooyi was “The Future of Work,” and Nooyi seemed to be prepared for and to welcome the questions.  But I would argue that with a little bit of thought, Bradley might have come up with some other questions about the future of work that had nothing to do with work-life balance.

Further, as I argued in my earlier post, I think the work-life balance topic should be very much in bounds.  It’s an important issue that needs more focus, not less.  But when, oh when, will someone get around to asking a male CEO to reveal his struggles with it?  Is there an assumption that men don’t care about their families?  Or that they shouldn’t be asked uncomfortable questions?

By the way, both the Barra interview on Today and the Nooyi interview at Aspen covered many topics beyond work-life balance, and both women are incredibly impressive, thoughtful leaders.

A final note:  In discussing the Lauer-Barra interview with my very bright, insightful 24-year-old daughter, she made an interesting observation.  To her, work is an important part of life.  It makes no sense for work and life to be juxtaposed so that they must be in balance.  “Work life-personal life balance” might be a more appropriate way of thinking about it.  As often is the case, Taylor Bolton opened my eyes to a new way of thinking.

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