New Generation Answers: CEO Mom Clears Path For Life Balance

On some things, Father did not know best.Sabrina Parsons’ father, Tim Berry, founded Palo Alto Software in 1987, when she was in middle school. Now she is CEO of the company and has been since 2007. Parsons has been making changes her father never dreamed to make.After graduating from Princeton University in 1996, Parsons “jumped into the dot com business,” she says, working at smaller startups including Commtouch, where she was director of online marketing, and Epinions, where she was senior producer. She then founded her own web consulting company, Lighting Out.She and her husband, Noah, founded a software distribution company in the United Kingdom and sold that to Palo Alto Software in 2002. They moved to Eugene, Oregon to be closer to family when they had their own children.Parsons had her first of three sons while working at Palo Alto and had a hard time finding child care solutions.“So I started bringing him to the office,” Parsons said. “My dad said you can’t have babies in the office. But I didn’t have a place to put him, so I put him in a sling and had a university student come in and help with him.”Parsons’ inclusive moves encouraged other new mothers on the team of 75 employees, and since then, eight women have brought their children to the office. Parsons also helped establish three months paid family leave and the invitation to bring babies to the office until they are five months old.[bctt tweet=“At Palo Alto Software, CEO Sabrina Parsons helped establish three months paid family leave and the invitation to bring babies to the office until they are five months old. #workingmothers” username=“takeleadwomen”]Now the mother of three, Parsons is CEO, the position she stepped into when her father stepped down.“We facilitate day care so there is a lot of flexibility,” she says. “On a snow day, we can have 20 kids in the office,” she says. “We feel strongly about building policies around work life balance,” says Parsons, who is president of the Princeton Entrepreneurs Network, and a member of the board of directors of the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce and Whole Earth Nature School.“We look at an employee as a wh0le human,” Parsons says. And that has helped with talent retention.As a working mother CEO—and Parsons blogs about her life at MommyCEO.org—Parsons says she was always confused as to why women were not encouraged to bring their small children to work.“Why is it OK to have dogs running around the office, but you can’t bring a newborn?” she asks.As one of a very small group of women CEOs in this country, Parsons says, “I lead by example and I have to say this is what I believe in. Employees pick up what is lip service and what is real.”Glassdoor’s 2017 list of 100 top-ranked CEOs reported that, “Male CEOs get top marks. Women CEOs don’t. Six male CEOs saw near-perfect 99 percent ratings. Not a single woman CEO scored that high – in fact, there weren’t even a total of six women in the 90s,” according to Mediathinknum.And while the female CEO may not be as highly regarded, one recent study shows that female CEOs may actually earn more than male CEOs.[bctt tweet=“While the #femaleCEO may not be as highly regarded, one recent study shows that female CEOs may actually earn more than male CEOs.” username=“takeleadwomen”]“In 2017, the annual Equilar/Associated Press CEO Pay Study found that the median compensation for female CEOs was $13,093,444, and the average was $14,488,643. Meanwhile, male CEOs had a median compensation of $11,376,284 and an average of $12,648,010,” according to Sarah Berger in CNBC.“But of the 346 total CEOs included in the study, only 21 were female, compared to 325 males — it can be hard to draw meaningful conclusions from such a small sample size. The highest paid CEO on Equilar’s list was Thomas Rutledge of Charter Communications, who earned total compensation of nearly $99 million. Meanwhile, the highest paid female CEO included in Equilar’s study was Virginia Rometty of IBM, with compensation just a little over $32 million,” Berger writes.Parsons also has introduced healthy practices at the company including healthy snacks offered, such as fresh produce from the nearby framers market brought in, and no soda is provided as a rule.“We have a corporate membership to a gym and incentivize employees by giving a discounted rate,” that lowers the more often you go. “If you go twice a week you pay less, if you go three times a week, you pay even less and four times a week, even less than that.“We really want you to go the gym,” Parsons says.While Parsons takes her job as a role model seriously, she says she does have some regrets about the priorities she had in the workplace before she had children.“I didn’t become active as an advocate and was not out there as a visible leader until I was a working mother. I swallowed that I will be Wonder Woman and I didn’t really understand that doesn’t work,” Parsons says. “I wish I had understood that it’s really important for young women to see role models who are different.”From her role as a mother and CEO, Parsons says, where she is lucky to be able to call the shots, she looks back at her early career and acknowledges she just did what she needed to do “to play in a man’s world.”Other CEOs may agree.Clare Hart, CEO, Sterling Talent Solutions, recently laid out to Forbes how to promote and recognize women’s leadership in a company in order to make way for more female CEOs. She says, “One: listen to women, whether it is through Skip Level Meetings or formal Women’s Programs in the organization. Their opinions need to be heard and they may not be the same as their male counterparts. Two: provide coaching for woman when necessary. Unlike their male counterparts, aggressive women can be perceived negatively in the workplace. Women should manage their style to ensure they are never seen as emotional. They should always deal in facts and data to calmly state their points. Three: identify women with high potential and make sure they are known to managers so they can be considered when opportunities arise. Four: create Mentors and Advocates for women to ensure they have ‘air cover.’”Parsons says that as CEO of Palo Alto Software she is able to make a difference not just in her own company, but in the larger landscape, as well as serving as an example to the next generation.[bctt tweet=“As CEO of Palo Alto Software, Sabrina Parsons is able to make a difference not just in her own company, but in the larger landscape, serving as an example to the next generation. #FemaleCEOs” username=“takeleadwomen”]Leading by example and striving for parity in technology, where for so long, there has been gender imbalance, Parsons says, “Enough is enough.”A cultural shift to have more women CEOs is a priority for many.Jennifer Keough, CEO of JND Legal Administration, tells FierceCEO, “It’s awesome to be CEO and—female.  But the real reason the question is being asked is because there are so few woman leading companies.  So, my response to the real question is that it will be fantastic if and when the question I’m asked is simply how is it to be a CEO in your field?  We as a society aren’t there yet.”