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Taking Care of His Wife

May 28, 2016 2:16 am0 comments

I’m on the flight home from Northern California, where I just ran a 3-day leadership summit for my boss’ boss, the CIO of Google. We spent many months preparing the content and logistics, hoping to make it truly spectacular and inspiring for the 100 leaders who were invited.

On night two, the CIO approached to tell me that he’d be missing the last day. He was flying home that night to take care of his wife, who had come down with the flu, and their three children.

I was majorly bummed. This was his summit. His vision. His leadership team. He was scheduled to give opening and closing remarks the following day, to act as the container for all of the learning and ideation and connecting that we had done our best to encourage.

I immediately thought of my own husband who likely wouldn’t come home from a normal day of work if I had the flu, let alone fly across the country. And of my father, who headed to work each day of my childhood no matter who was ill. It wasn’t even a consideration for him to stay home, and he likely expected dinner to be on the table when he returned.

For the briefest moment, I felt frustrated. Can’t she hire a babysitter to handle the kids? Isn’t there someone else who can bring her water and Saltine crackers while he finishes up this summit?

And then my selfish little Grinch heart swelled.

I’ve been on the receiving end of his respect for family many times. It is one of the reasons I value my job at Google. I, unlike many women I know, am allowed to be both a mom and an employee, because he sets the tone for our organization, and it is one that values family above all else. He apologized profusely to me the night that his admin scheduled a meeting for us at 7pm, and – unable to get a babysitter – I appeared over video conference with my baby on my lap. When a woman who reported to him couldn’t come back from maternity leave on time because her nanny bailed at the last minute, he didn’t bat an eye before telling her to take all the time she needed to find a childcare arrangement that made her comfortable. Don’t rush it, he said.

And here he was – not only being a dedicated husband and father – but setting an example for me and 100 of his top leaders, that it really is okay to prioritize your family. That it is, indeed, the right and obvious thing to do.

Ann Marie Slaughter wrote about this in Unfinished Business, a book that I have given to numerous friends and proselytized to others. Our culture has so greatly discounted care, and we are growing hollow because of it. I read her article in the Atlantic, and murmured (exclaimed?) “yes!” over and over again. And here I was, witnessing a part of the sea change we’re all hoping for.

It won’t come from the lower rungs of the business world, because it can’t. I know the guilt my own husband suffers when I alone am caring for our two sick boys. But I also know that in his world, it is not acceptable to go home because someone is sick, himself included. The culture does not allow for priorities higher than work.

We need more leaders who are committed to their careers, but who are even more committed to their families. Thank you, Mister CIO, for going home to take care of your wife. There is nothing better you could have done.