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Hold CEOs Accountable for Their Bad Parenting

Thank goodness corporate boards do not value fathering, or else there would be no one to run the Fortune 500. Because there appears to be little room for parenting if you're at the very top.
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Recently, Wellpoint dismissed its CFO, David Colby. Wellpoint cites personal reasons. The LA Times tells us that it's the numerous mistresses he was leading supposedly exclusive relationships with. The problem here is not that executives cheat on their wives. They do it all the time. What we can take from the Wellpoint dismissal is that big companies value discretion when it comes to cheating on a wife. Three at once, and they're all talking -- that's too much for a board to take.

But here's the bottom line from all this corporate discipline hoopla: Senior executives must lead their personal lives in accordance with the values of corporate boards. Their personal life is no longer their own, according to Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy and Mather.

Thank goodness these boards do not value fathering, or else there would be no one to run the Fortune 500. Because there appears to be little room for parenting if you're at the very top.

Fortune magazine ran an article about Howard Stringer, CEO of Sony. He is married with two children and is quoted as saying at company meeting, "I don't see my family much. My family is you."

Fortune ran a profile of Jeff Immelt, chief executive of GE. Immelt said that he has been working 100-hour weeks for the last 20 years. He also said that he is married and they have an 18-year-old daughter.

I can't decide which is more pathetic -- the way these men approach their role as a parent, or the way that Fortune magazine writes about it without any commentary.

How can there be no mention of the fact that these CEOs are neglecting their kids?

We have a double standard in our society: If you are poor and you abandon your kids, you are a bad parent. But if you are rich and you abandon them to run a company, you are profiled in Fortune magazine.

I now quote a government publication aimed at low-income fathers:

"All children need emotional and financial support from both parents. The campaign goal is to convey...the importance of family life and to encourage fathers -- whether married, divorced or single -- to become involved in their children's lives... Responsible fathers are men who actively share with the mother in providing physical, emotional and intellectual needs for their child."

This standard applies to Stringer and Immelt. Just because they're rich doesn't mean their kids don't need to see them. How is Stringer providing emotional support to his children when he is telling his employees that he has replaced his family with his employees? And I question how someone can spend 100 hours a week working and still find time to actively share in parenting responsibilities.

Fortunately, respect for this sort of parenting outside the board room is dwindling as baby boomers disappear from the parenting picture and Gen-Xers take their place. Sylvia Hewlett presents research to show that while baby boomers are willing to work extreme hours, younger people scoff at the idea of doing that for more than a year. And recent polls (via Hole in the Fence) show that men are sick of the long hours and want more time with their kids: Almost 40 percent of working dads would take a pay cut to spend more time with their kids.

It'll be a great day when CEOs are dismissed for neglecting their kids. Meanwhile, employees, beware: CEOs like Stringer and Immelt have a negative effect on your own ability to keep your personal life intact, because work-life policy starts at the top and trickles down.

When you are looking for a company to work for, look at the CEO. If you find out he's having sex with four different women, you don't have to worry -- he's about to be fired. But if he works insane hours, you can bet that you will be expected to do the same, on some level. And my gosh, if he refers to you as his family, run!

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