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Double standards faced by female CEOs
Blog - Didier Elzinga, author profile

Didier Elzinga

Founder & CEO, Culture Amp


A few years ago, my son Jude came home with a picture he'd done at school. It was a person with a phone glued to their ear, captioned, “My dad likes to walk around the house on the phone to people all over the world all times of night and day.”

Questions about work-life balance form an important part of our surveys, but if you were to ask how my wife, Greta, and I handle work-life balance, we would have to say: badly. Both of us are career-motivated, and when kids come into the picture, it is a constant struggle managing family life and work.

Early on, we made a commitment that one of us would always be here for the kids, but often that means working from home. We don’t really have a work-life balance; we have a work-life blend.

It’s funny that sometimes you can do something successfully at work, but fail to do it at home. As a CEO, I have explicit conversations with people about expectations and workload all the time. Greta and I never had that explicit conversation at home, and it’s something I regret. In all honesty, despite all her success (she recently made her debut opera performance at the Sydney Opera House), it’s Greta whose career has taken more of a back seat. That did not happen intentionally.

Sometimes if one partner is making significantly more money, it makes the decision a little bit easier.  But making a decision purely based on dollars brings its own set of issues, not the least of which is it too often reinforces gender roles, which is not something I want unconsciously ingrained in my boys.

Every female CEO gets asked if they can “have it all”

Every female CEO gets asked if they can have it all – but, I’m never asked that. Every time my wife travels overseas, she gets asked who looks after the kids. I've never once been asked that question. There's still a huge mind-shift that needs to happen for it to be any sense of equality amongst the sexes in that way.

Whether you can have “it all” as a father or a mother is a vexed question. There are constant compromises and sometimes it’s work that misses out and other times it is the family.

As long as no one part of your life suffers too much and you are open to the compromises you are making, I think you can have some semblance of balance.

How I think about spending my time

Two key things help me make decisions on how to spend my time.

  1. The first is, I try to ensure that quality time with my kids makes up for any lack in quantity of time.

    I try to really be present with them, not looking at my phone or being taken away with other distractions. I coach my son's basketball team. Even though I have to work many hours, often I can choose to work late at night and early in the morning, when the boys are asleep. Working this way, I have probably been more present than I would have to work at a standard corporate job. That stuff is important in creating a relationship you can then build on for the rest of your life.
  2. The second thing is realizing I can’t do all the things all the time.

    There is research that shows that if you're doing difficult, cognitive work, you can only do it for so long. A study done of violinists in Germany found that the very top performers practiced less – four to four and a half hours a day – than the average performers. The study concluded that there's only so much deep work a person can do in a given day before it becomes counterproductive.

    Culture Amp was founded by four people in our thirties, three of whom had kids. The expectation was long hours for us all, but there needed to be some flexibility because we did have families. We used to have a company event called Third Thursday, which used to be a pub gathering once a month. But realizing that cut out all those who had kids – or meant they had to sacrifice time with them - so we changed our event to alternate with more family-friendly environments.

We all get the same number of minutes

Only you can actually sit down and decide what matters to you. Only you can balance the different needs into a blend that actually works for you. We all get the same number of minutes and hours in the day. The only real choice we have is how we use them.

What’s next

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