I have spent hours reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. It's riveting. I have never learned so much about computers or microchips or innovation. I was willing to forgive Jobs for his tyrannical business practices, his ruthlessness in negotiations and the harsh manner in which he enforced accountability at Apple. I read with awe and incredulity how Jobs bent reality to fit his purposes and drive his teams to produce greater products that have actually improved my life. And putting aside the fact that it's actually none of my business what his personal life was like, I still couldn't help but think about his relationships: the one with his oldest daughter whom he initially abandoned and then maintained a rather stormy relationship with for the rest of his life or his subsequent three children.
Because Jobs fully cooperated with Isaacson in the writing of this book, I felt invited to think about Jobs' personal decisions, including those involving his children.
I didn't really start to hate him until I finished the book and saw the picture on the inside back cover. It's a picture of Jobs in his signature black mock turtle neck, jeans and Keen shoes. He's leaning back in his chair with his head cradled in his hands. His gaze appears to be focused on his computer screen: a large Mac (of course) with a picture of his wife and son, Reed, smiling on what appears to be a happy day. That sealed it for me.
Throughout the book Isaacson made several passing references to how Jobs tended to ignore his daughters, Eve and Erin. There are hardly any references to Jobs' actual interactions with his daughters in the entire 571-page book. His disinterest in them was especially alarming in light of his interest in Reed. Reed was allowed to attend a weekend of board meetings in June 2010, when Jobs and his Board were trying to decide how to deal with the technical glitches in the iPhone 4. "Jobs also decided to bring his son Reed, then a high school senior, back with him from Hawaii . . . [Jobs told Reed] 'You're going to be in the room with the best people in the world making really tough decisions and get to see how the sausage is made.'" According to Issacson, "Jobs got a little misty-eyed when he recalled the experience. Jobs told Issacson, "'I would go through all that again just for that opportunity to have him see me at work . . . He got to see what his dad does.'"
Well, that was no doubt wonderful for Reed. Do you think maybe Eve and Erin might also like to see what their dad does for a living? Might Eve and Erin also want to sit in on historic meetings with the "best people in the world"? Might they want the opportunity to be exposed to the rarefied air at an Apple Board meeting? Yes, his girls were younger than Reed, but if you are going to let a 16 year old sit in on top secret Board meetings, why not a 13 year old?
So, here's Steve Jobs, this west-coast innovator, "genius", and "visionary", but he won't give his daughters the same access he gave his sons to his beloved company. It's one thing to read about large sociological patterns and glass ceilings, but it's quite another to see one of the most powerful businessmen of my generation obliterate his daughters. Surely, of any of the young women coming of age today, those with fathers or mothers who are CEOs are at least slightly more likely to rise through the business ranks because of privilege, connections, opportunities, and because they have been parented by CEOs. A CEO parent has a rare opportunity to give his children a portal into the pressures and joys and politics of running a company.
But not if the CEO parent is only interested in imparting that knowledge to his sons. I know that no one, including Jobs himself, holds up Steve Jobs as a paragon for parenting. It's awfully old-fashioned to value sons more than daughters, isn't it? I thought he was supposed to be cutting edge. What's so cutting edge about giving your son a front-row seat to history but leaving your daughters at home to prepare you a vegan dinner? Ok, so he left his daughters in Kona, Hawaii, but still. They weren't invited to the Board meeting and Isaacson suggests that such an idea would have never occurred to Jobs.
How could it occur to his daughters if it never occurred to him?
Isaacson also noted that Jobs solicited input from Reed about the new Apple campus, but ignored Erin-- who was sitting in the same room during the conversation-- who is an aspiring architect and already showing promise in design. (Reed hopes to be an oncologist.) "[I]t seemed not to occur to him to call her over as well." She also really wanted to go to the Oscars with her dad, and while Jobs' wife was game to give up her ticket for her daughter, "[Jobs] dismissed the idea."
Here's a man who may be placed in the pantheon "right next to Edison and Ford." What does it mean for future female executives that "the greatest business executive of our era," brought his son to meetings to show him what Dad does, but left his daughters at home like pets or invalids? Jobs himself liked to see himself as perched at the intersection of science and humanities. He said that "the reason Apple resonates with people is that there's a deep current of humanity in our innovation." Last time I checked, daughters were part of humanity.
While I was reading the book, I tempered my disgust for his treatment of all three of his daughters by reminding myself that he was sort of an asshole to everyone. He was probably an asshole to his son as well. His true legacy is Apple, his company, not his children who can presumably afford any therapist in the world to help them work through any lingering father issues.
But that back cover. I just can't get over it. I am annoyed that it looks like his screen saver is a picture of his wife and his son. I feel like screaming at this dead man that I don't even know, "HEY, HAVE ANY PICTURES OF YOUR DAUGHTERS SAVED ON YOUR FANCY MAC?" Really, at the end of the day, Steve Jobs was just one more man who values boys more than girls. It so happens that he is also became very successful and created an iconic American company. All dads who fail to value their daughters as much as their sons piss me off. If Steve Jobs can't see the value in his own daughters' minds and imagine their contributions to a host of enterprises, then how can he (or any other male executive) see the value and potential in women he did not father?
I can't wait for the day that fathers understand that their children don't have to have a sausage to have a desire and a right to see how the sausage is made. Maybe when there are more females among the top-ranking officials in public companies we will be able to move beyond metaphors that invoke the most phallic cut of meat to something more gender-neutral, like pot roast or brisket.