Aarti Shah 30 Jan 2019 // 4:50PM GMT
There’s a lingering question around the coverage of Stuart Smith exiting Ogilvy to become CMO at Vegolutionary Foods. The question, it appears, is whether news stories should have disclosed that Smith is married to Gail Becker, the founder and CEO of the company. And my response is, of course.
Granted, disclosing this particular relationship was slightly different than revealing more commonplace connections, for instance comms leaders who hire agencies they previously have worked with or executives returning to previous employers. But ultimately, it came down to this — we disclosed those relationships. It’s not our job to simply stick to the press materials, our responsibility is to tell the full story, the best we can. It’s essentially a betrayal to our readers to withhold information, without good reason, simply because it’s uncomfortable disclosing it. (More on that later.)
And yes, Smith leaving Ogilvy to become CMO at a company founded by his spouse is unquestionably relevant. I thought about when Randi Zuckerberg joined Facebook as head of marketing in 2004 (a role she held until 2011) — would I have left out that she’s the founder/CEO’s sister? Of course not, it was materially relevant to the story.
The journalistic value of including the relationship is clear. So now let’s get down to the gender politics of this. We still live in a world where it is not only accepted, but highly encouraged, that women’s professional pursuits be in service of men. This plays out in countless ways around us everyday, I’ll spare you the laundry list of examples. But, in a nutshell, women are still overrepresented in support roles within organizations and underrepresented in the top leadership positions — and this plays out in family dynamics too.
When men, however, shift their careers to be in service of women — it’s such an anomaly, it’s confusing and there’s an instinct to somehow protect their masculinity. Remember how much collective angst the prospect of a First Gentleman caused during Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid? Even Hillary had to assure the public that Bill wouldn’t be expected to pick out china. Not enough people wondered why Ivy League educated women were expected to do this, but somehow Bill Clinton was not?
To bring it back to this industry, in 2008, I was interviewing a very successful founder/CEO, when she quietly said: “You know, I don’t make this public, but my husband is a stay-at-home parent.” She went on to list her husband’s professional accomplishments before he stepped away from his career to support her multimillion dollar business. In that moment, I thought of the numerous male CEOs who I had sat across from as they waxed poetic about their supportive, stay-at-home wives — and yet, that her husband had shifted his career in service of hers, had to be to whispered and kept under wraps.
This of course, isn’t a perfect parallel to Smith going to work for Vegolutionary Foods. He has a big job for a growing company that has exploded in two years from being available in 30 Whole Food stores to now being sold at more at more than 15,000 retailers, including Krogers, Walmart and Safeway. It’s a big job and he’s qualified for it.
Yet the only reason we’re still ruminating on this more than a week since the story broke is it disrupts the gender dynamics that we’re accustomed to. But it’s time to say enough with awkward secrecy when an accomplished man quits his job to help his wife grow her massively successful business. It’s not 2008 anymore.