Brenda Barnes, RIP

I did not know of Brenda Barnes until she died this past week.  Her story is one that defines the push/pull of motherhood and career.  She had an incredible career as the first female CEO at Pepsi Co presiding over Sara Lee until she decided it was enough and quit her job to become a full-time Mom.  She said her decision boiled down to one thing; time.

She died at 63 from a stroke.  Way too early to leave this earth.  It appears that she had complications with this in the past.  She walked away from her power job and my guess is her relationship with her family and kids changed in the positive way that she was missing.  Large corporations made it impossible for executives to climb the ladder and also be a present parent.  These are the decisions that women ( and children ) have paid the price for and unfortunately continue to.

I have said time and time again that when more large enterprise companies make the decision to give woman and men maternity/paternity leave and create ways for people to be more flexible with their time it is then when things will change.  If men spent the first couple of months with their child as women have done forever then their relationship with that child and their relationship with the family will shift.  Men will want to be present in a different way as they attempt to climb the corporate ladder and be a parent at the same time.  Companies must make men take the same time off as women as that will create more balance in the workforce.

Women (and men) who choose to leave that workforce for their children find themselves having an insanely difficult time re-entering that world.  PathForward is an organization that I am co-chairing and we are working on helping women (and men) reenter the workforce.  The stories of the people we have touched are amazing.  We have literally changed their lives.  Giving people the ability to get off the corporate ladder for a time to be with their family should be possible and then relatively seamless to reenter.  Women shouldn’t feel that the door is now shut on their careers.  The Atlantic wrote about this and PathForward this week.

Brenda’s story is one that needs to be remembered.  We have come a bit of a way from 20 years ago but there is so much more to be done and with this administration we need to be even more powerful as a group in our convictions that this is the future and that we are not slipping back into the past.

Comments (Archived):

  1. CCjudy

    what we cannot know is whether her strokes resulted from a driven direction and her psyche or if she had a genetic predisposition to heart disease and high blood pressure…

    1. Gotham Gal

      very true.

      1. jim forbes

        there are many causes of strokes. CVAs are very idiosyncratic.Mine was caused by plaque lodging in a stent then breaking free and getting stuck lower right mid=brain. About one third of all Americans will have strokes intheir lifetime.I was 52 qhwn I had mine. Although my left side fine motor coordination is gone, I’ve recovered to the point where I can climb and prune my avocado and other fruit trees and go for a putt putt on my ridiculously cool looking Piaggio MP3, a three wheel motor scooter. THe one thing that worked to help bring me back was an adaptive PE course at a local community college that involved pool exercises, and taking every physical therapy pass I could find.

  2. Matt Kruza

    Fully behind concept of ENCOURAGING parental leave for fathers, but MAKING is something that makes me and any other a little queasy. I get that the idea of MAKING is that otherwise guys will feel a pressure to not do it, and that their choice will be a signaling mechanism among other reasons. Simple fact is though making someone do something involuntarily will always engender a lot of push back. I often comment from a counter-intuitive point of view, but just want to relay a feeling I think many people have. definitely lets encourage it, and hopefully senior management really backs it up as an honest choice through their actions, but making someone do it is suspect without even getting into the fact that those who can/t or choose not to have kids shouldn’t be treated as second class workers without the timeoff aspect as well.

    1. Gotham Gal

      If companies don’t push it then it won’t happen

      1. Matt Kruza

        i think they can push through culture not mandate. is there ANY company that mandates it that you know of?

        1. Gotham Gal

          I do not know any that mandates it but there could be tremendous pressure in some companies to take it.