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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 ...

The couple met in London almost seven years ago but she quickly convinced him to follow her to California. Too many times, they saw couples in investment banking and corporate law burn out over child-care negotiations, arguing over whose career was more important, who made more money, and who should have to cancel their meeting with the CEO to pick up a sick kid from school. “If we stayed in London, we would have been that couple that went gung ho for our careers and hated each other and divorced after five years,” he says.

But in Silicon Valley, they have the freedom to make career choices that allow for more flexibility. The key is Mr. Chambers working from home. “This is my commute,” he says as he walks from his kitchen, through the garage, to his home office. They have a nanny who comes every weekday, but when something goes wrong, he’s the one who cancels his meetings and phone calls to step in. “There’s an assumption that I will do it,” he says.

Mr. Chambers would surely win a gold star from Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer who recently published Lean In, her feminist manifesto encouraging more women to be leaders. In Chapter 8, Make Your Partner a Real Partner, she advises young women to date the cool boys but marry the men who will truly support them in their own career endeavours, mainly by sharing equally in the work at home. This will allow women to “lean in” to their work, go for promotions and ask for bigger responsibilities, rather than stepping back because demands at home are overwhelming.

This message rings true for the Mr. Chambers, but up to a point. “If you have a working spouse and your child is in day care, you just can’t be as available as someone with a stay-at-home spouse or a 24-hour nanny,” Ms. Chambers, 34, says. Affording the cost of round-the-clock child care is “just not an option when you’re mid-career.”

When she was preparing to return to work, Mr. Donahoe gave her some distinctly anti-Sandbergian advice. He helped her look for a role that would be challenging but also have tremendous flexibility in terms of early mornings, late nights and travel. “At first, it sounded like a step back and I said, ‘I’m not going to step back,’” she remembers. But then Mr. Donahoe told her, “You probably don’t know you need the flexibility but, trust me, you need it.”

The day she returned to work, Zoe started waking up every 45 minutes. At work, Ms. Chambers was toast by 3 p.m. But she could arrange her schedule to catch up on work or sleep when she needed. “I was so grateful I had that advice and had taken it.”

For Mr. Chambers, being home and available for Zoe is not a favour performed in service to his wife’s career. It is something he values deeply and wants to do. From his perspective, a revolution that allows fathers to play a more integral role in raising their children is just as urgent as Ms. Sandberg’s push to free women’s time up for work. “I don’t want to be that guy that goes to work and comes home and sits on the couch and wonders where his dinner is,” Mr. Chambers says. “That guy isn’t me.”

Instead, he wants his daughter to see him cooking and hoovering. And he wants her to see his wife leaving for the office every day. He wants her to learn from an early age that both a career and an equal partnership are realities for her.

To a large extent, men have been left out of the push for work-life integration. It is women who have led the charge to implement maternity leave policies and shift attitudes. As more men seek flexibility at work, they are facing pressures of their own. Studies show that men who take time off or request flexibility to care for children are perceived by co-workers as “weak” or “uncompetitive” and face a greater risk of being demoted or laid off.

Men sometimes internalise the pressures. When Zoe was a few months old, the new nanny had to take several days off. At first, Mr. Chambers tried to keep appointments for Skype calls during Zoe’s naps, but it all got too overwhelming. “I’m doing a bad job at work, I’m doing a bad job with my daughter, and everyone hates me,” he says. Now he knows not to try. If something goes wrong, he commits to being a father for the whole day.

Mr. Chambers is relieved to have the freedom of being his own boss, and the support of Silicon Valley to do things differently. His goal is to build his own company to success, where some day he is the leader helping employees build flexibility into their lives. For him, real progress in the workplace, for women and men, will come when more men forge flexible work schedules and wash dishes in front of their children, then turn those experiences into corporate policies. “If you can repeat that 100,000 times, we might get somewhere,” he says.

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