Last month, I had the opportunity to moderate an intimate fireside chat with Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker. Warby Parker is one of the tech world’s phenoms, having launched in 2011 to immediate success, and has since grown rapidly.
Neil and I wove a narrative that touched on his early inspiration working at VisionSpring, his time at Wharton getting his MBA, the challenges and pleasures of running a business that has the potential to transform an industry, Warby Parker’s strategy, and getting to be on Oprah. Hosted by Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, from which I graduated in 2013, the event can be viewed on video when it is released.
But a favorite moment of the audience’s — and mine, too — happened when I asked him if men really can have it all, and if so, what the pre-conditions are.
Frequently, moderators ask female CEOs about her family. As an audience member to many of these interactions, this has always irritated me since male CEOs typically do not get the same types of questions. It’s not that questions about family are inherently bad. As a society, we should increasingly have conversations that acknowledge the complexity of juggling work and life and encourage the multi-faceted lives that people lead. It’s that it’s almost always only women who are asked the question.
So I asked Neil, and here’s what happened:
Neil took the opportunity to talk about his rockstar entrepreneur wife, Rachel Blumenthal, the first entrepreneur in the family, who had grown a successful jewelry business (named one of Oprah’s Favorite Things). Rachel, in fact, put Neil through business school when he decided to make the transition from VisionSpring to creating his own company.
He also spoke about the questions Rachel would get from VCs when she sought to capitalize her venture, which unsurprisingly but disappointingly ranged from the absurd to the downright offensive and which would never have been asked of male entrepreneurs
Now with two small children, their challenge has been juggling schedules to accommodate their parenting. Part of the solution involved Rachel licensing her business, but, between having their two children, she also launched a new company called Cricket’s Circle.
And while Neil didn’t explicitly state it this way, these are the things that I took away from our conversation:
• Neil’s comments echo most of the recent calls to action regarding the American workplace: It’s hard regardless of your gender, but it’s particularly harsh on women. “Having it all” requires two parents who have the flexibility, means, and network to create that environment.
• In other words, if you’re poor, a single parent, if your spouse can’t hold down the fort at home, or if you work for an employer that doesn’t offer phenomenal leave, flex, and telecommuting benefits, you’re pretty much screwed.
• Sadly, as the only industrialized country that has yet to implement many of the benefits that would allow people to navigate robust personal and professional lives, we’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up.
My fellow moderators, I challenge you to ask this question of the men you interview: Can we really have it all, and if so, what are the pre-conditions?
If we do so, I expect we’ll get fascinating answers and stories not just about women who have made sacrifices in their careers, but also of women who have financially supported their partners, and men who, as it turns out, also choose to be engaged parents.
Because at the end of the day, toxic work culture affects all of us, regardless of our gender.
This post originally appeared on Medium.
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