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Silicon Valley sees a lot more stay-at-home fathers than other urban areas. (Nicole Hill/Getty Images/Rubberball)
Silicon Valley sees a lot more stay-at-home fathers than other urban areas. (Nicole Hill/Getty Images/Rubberball)

Balance

Young men in Silicon Valley choosing kids over work Add to ...

But for many other tech startups, youth rules. Engineers roll into the office at 11 a.m., sometimes staying for all-night “hackathons.” Refrigerators are stocked with beer and Red Bull and ping-pong tournaments are scheduled for 8 p.m. The paucity of women at these companies has allowed many to ignore the issue. Just 17 per cent of technical jobs are filled by women at startups that are five years old, according to the U.S.-based National Center for Women and Information Technology.

“The young kids in Silicon Valley, the ones that are unmarried entrepreneurs, ain’t thinking about this,” says Mr. Donahoe, the eBay CEO. “For those that are having children, you see profound change.”

At age 52, Mr. Donahoe is a rare role model for younger families. In him they see a leader who compromised his own career at various points to support his wife’s. He still made it to the top, and she was later appointed U.S. ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council.

Mr. Donahoe met Eileen Chamberlain at Dartmouth College. They fell in love on their first date. The decision to get married three years later was the forming of a union they called “ChamberHoe.”

“It signalled partnership, it signalled mutual respect,” Mr. Donahoe says. “It wasn’t around 50/50. It didn’t get tactical. It was more philosophical.”

Since graduating college, and over the course of raising four children, both have made accommodations in support of each other’s careers. When Ms. Chamberlain was accepted to a graduate program at Harvard Divinity School, Mr. Donahoe went to work for Bain and Co. in Boston instead of accepting his first choice spot at Goldman Sachs in New York.

Their first child came in 1984, when Mr. Donahoe was studying at Stanford Business School, and the second in 1987 when he was back on the fast track at Bain and Ms. Chamberlain was at Stanford Law School. Their two boys were five and three years old when she finished law school and got a clerkship with a prominent federal judge. She had to be at her desk in the judge’s chambers every morning at 7:30 a.m.

Mr. Donahoe walked into his boss’ office. “I have to quit,” he said. “I have to take my kids to school every morning and I can never travel.” His boss refused the resignation. Instead, he found a local client for the firm and put Mr. Donahoe in charge. He went to 75-per-cent time, and scheduled no meetings before 10 a.m., the earliest he could arrive at the client offices after dropping Jack and Thomas at school.

“It’s not like it’s all motherhood and apple pie,” he says. “There were several people inside Bain that thought I was weak for going part-time, or less committed.” But, he says, it was always harder on his wife. When she got pregnant with their fourth child unexpectedly, six months after their third was born, Ms. Chamberlain had to decide whether she would continue working at Fenwick & West, the law firm where she did high-tech litigation, or stay home.

“I felt so confused. I wanted both,” she says. “Having four children, the level of difficulty ramped up dramatically. That was the first time I really became aware of how difficult it was to balance John’s needs and ambitions, my needs and ambitions, and the well-being of our children.”

She decided to leave work. No longer having a formal job stirred up a lot of questions about her identity. Over the next decade, she took classes in sociology, philosophy, feminist theory and theology, eventually earning her PhD. The path led to U.S. President Barack Obama offering her the ambassadorship for human rights in 2010.

Mr. Donahoe now looks to his own experience to influence how eBay is managed. He helped start a women’s network, which counts the company’s top 400 women leaders as members, and refashioned several jobs for talented employees as they started families, as his boss at Bain did for him.

But with 5,000 managers, it can be difficult to spread the message to everyone. The dominant youth culture of Silicon Valley still infects the ranks of a large company like eBay. “The problem is if you’ve got a woman who wants to figure out a part-time arrangement, and her boss is a 29-year-old single man,” he says. “I can give all the training in the world, and he’s not going to be sophisticated about how to deal with that.”

Adam Chambers, 40, is an entrepreneur in two ways. In the conventional sense, he’s starting his own company, an app for ordering wine. He’s also a new father, and choosing to go the start-up route was a deliberate move to create more time for his daughter Zoe, who just turned one.

He turned down offers to do business development for some large companies, wanting to avoid the long days, travel and “pressure cooker” culture. His wife Laura is head of university programs at eBay, and they decided one such job was enough.

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