The life of a venture capitalist is a life spent networking — the job often entails long hours and late nights, both to schmooze potential investors and keep a finger on the pulse of the tech industry.
But after Fred Wang, a partner at Trinity Ventures, had his first daughter, he quickly realized his working life required a reboot. His own father was an entrepreneur whose dedication to the job left little time for family. Wang wanted to be there for his children.
So Wang volunteered to coach sports for his three children, now ages 17, 15, and 12, over the years coaching 20 teams. He helps with math and science homework. And this spring, he was there to express the mandatory fatherly concern upon seeing the dress his eldest daughter had selected for the prom.
To accomplish all that, Wang cut his work hours down to about 50 a week. Sometimes, he said, his work has suffered — and his colleagues were not always pleased.
“There has been pushback from some of my partners, for sure,” said Wang. “Some of them feel like we have to be out at events every night, meeting with entrepreneurs. But one is an empty nester, one doesn’t have children and the other one is a brand-new father and I think he doesn’t quite understand what’s coming yet.”
Balancing the demands of work and home is often characterized as a women’s issue — especially in Silicon Valley’s youthful and hyper-masculine culture, where long hours are viewed as a badge of honor and company policies are not always family-friendly.
But while the challenges that tech dads face are often overlooked , they are there all the same.
In one extreme example portrayed in a new biography of Elon Musk, the Tesla founder scolded an employee for choosing to attend the birth of his child over a work event. (Musk has denied the incident.)
What’s more, research has shown that men may be less likely to speak openly about the work-home balancing act.
A recent survey of 1,000 male and female users of the workplace social network LinkedIn found that while the vast majority of women said they had never heard a successful man talk about balancing work and home, over half of the men said the topic was discussed among other men. Another recent study from Boston University found that many men were more inclined to fake an 80-hour workweek than challenge a hard-charging culture — they might leave work to take care of a child, but would never call attention to it.
“There’s a highly intensive work culture in Silicon Valley, and part of that is always working and not having anything distract you from that singular focus,” said Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research. “People get penalized when they ask for flexible work. And men are concerned they will be stigmatized — they do a lot of concealing to maintain they don’t have these family lives or personal responsibilities.”
Like Wall Street and other male-dominated industries, the tech world may be particularly unfriendly to fathers struggling to balance work and home. Most valley dads interviewed for this story said they simply took the time they needed for their family — none of them asked.
For Alex Rainert, former product head at Foursquare and head of design at Sum, it was essential to find jobs where other people had children. His wife has a demanding job, too, and they split kid responsibility 50-50. He still feels guilt sometimes when he leaves work by 5:30 p.m. to make sure he gets an hour with the kids before bedtime, but thinks that most of it is probably pressure he’s putting on himself.
“Sometimes, when we’re pushing out new code late at night, I wish I could be there,” said Rainert. “But as a dad, you have to pick your battles.”
Wang said that at one point his firm actually had a conversation about whether its partners, when considering work-life balance, placed too much emphasis on life and not enough on work.
“There’s no question that the venture business is one where you have to put in a lot of time,” he said. “But at the end of the day, what you are measured on is whether you can make money for your investors. Working 30 percent more doesn’t always translate to that. I feel like I am still pretty effective working 50 hours a week.”
Wang’s 17-year-old daughter, Kate, said that her dad’s efforts at home don’t go unnoticed. For years he drove her to Tahoe every weekend for ski competitions. Usually, she said, he makes it home for dinner, even if he has to return to work afterward.
“I admire him a lot,” she said. “I admire his work ethic and his values and that he’s able to balance family and work very well. Considering I’m a junior in high school and I have so much work, seeing him balance it all gives me hope for myself.”
Jeremy Adam Smith, an author who has written about the phenomenon of stay-at-home dads, said fatherhood can be confusing for men because there is no longer a consensus on what being a dad requires. Not so long ago, the idea of a guy changing a diaper was funny. Now plenty of men take the diaper duty lead.
“Men have become very fragmented,” Smith said. “They are haunted by gender roles of the past. And they see how women are penalized for balancing home and work, and they react to it.”
The Boston University study found that men who sought formal accommodations for time away from work were usually discouraged from doing so. The men who changed their work hours themselves, on the other hand, were able to fly under the radar.
But for the work-home balance problem to be solved for either gender, Cooper said, men will have to join the public conversation. At present, there are on only a handful of men championing these issues publicly. When Max Schireson, CEO of software company MongoDB, stepped down from his company to focus on his family in August, it was novel enough that the story made headlines for days.
Bradford Stroh, an entrepreneur and CEO of Bills.com, said putting his family before his company has often actually been a boon for business. He has coached many of his children’s sports teams — right now he leaves work twice a week at 4:30 to coach lacrosse — something he says taught him a lot about how to be a better CEO (he even wrote an essay on the subject).
Likewise, being a CEO has taught him something about being a father. Each month, his family holds a “board meeting” to assess how everyone is doing. His blog has tips for starting a family board meeting tradition.
Wide range of lessons
This year, he and his wife are taking their two children out of school to travel the world. They hope it will teach them something about what life is like outside the Silicon Valley bubble. His company — and other companies on which he holds a board position — will just have to deal.
Stroh, for one, regards the idea that anyone would hide the fact that they have a life outside of work with some bemusement.
“There will certainly come a time in work and human evolution when people look back on the recent workplace era with disdain that people sat in offices or cubes for 80 hours a week, for no other reason than perception and peer pressure,” he said.