Penelope’s Points: Men, Women, Work & Family

A lot of passionate & negative reaction to Penelope Trunk’s Women Don’t Want To Run Startups Because They’d Rather Have Children in TechCrunch this past weekend.

And yet I wonder to what degree people agree on some of the core issues. Let me attempt a restatement of her core argument:

Penelope Trunk
Penelope Trunk

More Men Than Women Sacrifice Family, Friends, and Values for Chance to Star at Work

Do we agree on that?

Now I could go on for paragraphs with the caveats. Not everybody sells out their values. And to some degree work is a way that we serve our family, friends, and values. This effect may be strongest with the VC-funded Web 2.0 startups and therefore overstated on the internet.

The caveats make the article more dull and less provocative, so smart publications like TechCrunch often leave them out. And without the caveats the article is obviously overstated and therefore attracts negative feedback (generally a good thing for TechCrunch).

But can we pretend that Penelope put the right caveats in and consider these excerpts?

  • “The women I know who [start a startup while raising young kids] have lost their companies or their marriages or both. And there is no woman running a startup with young kids, who, behind closed doors, would recommend this life to anyone.”
  • “I’m a magnet for high-powered women with stay-at-home husbands. And when the men aren’t listening, the women always tell me that their men don’t pay enough attention and they (the women) are really running the household. … So even the most child-oriented men are not as child-oriented as their wives.”
  • “Women want a lifestyle business. Women want to control their time, control their work, to be flexible for their kids. This seems reasonable: Women start more lifestyle businesses and men start more venture-funded businesses.”
  • “We use social service funding to tell impoverished families that it’s important for dads to spend time with their kids. But what about startup founders? Is it okay for them to leave their kids in favor of 100-hour weeks? For many founders, their startup is their child.”

These are strong claims. Are they true? Should we do something about it?

One of the successful entrepreneurs whose blog I often read is Rae Hoffman, who wrote about how she defines success:

“[success is] about living my life in a way that makes me happy and on my terms.

It’s being able to rent a cottage for a week to bring my friends and my children on vacation and being around at 2 p.m. in the afternoon [with my kids] …

[Success] is all about being able to ENJOY my life, time with those I love and being able to share my success with those I care about. …”

Now that may all sound like an obvious definition of success, but I think most men have a harder time thinking that way. Rae’s column was in support of a similar definition offered by another woman, Lynn Terry. Maybe I’m just naive and when women write these things I believe them and when men write them I don’t even notice. But it seems to me that more men than women try to maximize money and power because they’re consumed with the idea of being the best at something and are too stupid to understand that money and power should be optimized in some larger equation.

Summary & Final Thoughts:

  • Over-generalizations make articles more compelling but also objectionable and threatening. Sometimes.
  • Startup culture often involves seriously compromising our other obligations, opportunities and values. Men are generally more likely to take the bait than women.

What are your thoughts?