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Kellyanne Conway is wrong: Working moms do belong in the White House

Sheila Lirio Marcelo is the CEO of Care.com
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Sheila Lirio Marcelo is the CEO of Care.com

Ugh.

That was my immediate, emotional response to reading Kellyanne Conway's comments about why she'd likely pass up an official role at the White House. It felt like a punch to the gut.

"I do politely mention to them the question isn't would you take the job, the male sitting across from me who's going to take a big job in the White House. The question is would you want your wife to," Conway said, according to Politico, when describing conversations she's had with male colleagues. "Would you want the mother of your children to? You really see their entire visage change. It's like, oh, no, they wouldn't want their wife to take that job."

Over the past several months, Conway, the former campaign manager for President-elect Donald Trump, undeniably has become a woman of power, a woman in the spotlight, and, whether this was her intention or not, a potential role model for young women and girls. So to hear her suggesting that motherhood is a reason that women shouldn't work at the White House – in 2016 – is disappointing to say the least.

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But then I thought about it for a minute. And, you know what, I actually get it.

Women today have more rights, status and opportunities than ever before in American history. But when you start to approach the highest levels of power and influence — up in the stratosphere Conway is talking about here — you realize this is a man's man's man's world.

We're more than half of the electorate, earn more than half of advanced degrees and comprise roughly half of the workforce, but women in government make up just 20 percent of U.S. Congress and women in business occupy less than 17 percent of the C-suite. As I've written before, women are leading at every level of society, but they're very much still the outliers.

This is the world we know. That's why I'm still "a female CEO." And it's why Conway's remarks were such a gut punch.

Sheila Lirio Marcelo onstage during 2016 Milken Institute Global Conference
Alberto E. Rodriguez | Getty Images
Sheila Lirio Marcelo onstage during 2016 Milken Institute Global Conference

The implication that a woman cannot do anything and everything a man can do is not a message I want to hear from an influencer so close to our President-elect. When the influencer is a woman, it's especially upsetting. This kind of thinking is way out of touch with the realities of today's families and reinforces gender stereotypes that we should be way past by now.

Roughly 70 percent of moms with children under 18 work outside the home, along with more than 90 percent of dads. This is not necessarily the experience of most of our business and political leaders, but we don't want them to be totally out of touch with it either. If you're going to suggest that women shouldn't take a demanding job because of her children, then you should throw that out there for men, too.

You need only look at some of the other women under consideration for top roles to see the fault in Conway's logic. Take for example Ivanka Trump, who has been an outspoken supporter of celebrating Women Who Work "at all aspects of their lives." Or take Linda McMahon, who has been named to head the Small Business Administration. Her children are grown now, but for the better part of 30 years she was a working mom growing the WWE from a regional wrestling promotion to the billion-dollar multinational corporation it is today.

If President-elect Trump is intent on filling his administration with the best and brightest, what kind of gap must there be if you disqualify all every working mom? Granted a White House role is impossibly demanding, but it's impossibly demanding for everyone regardless of their family dynamics. Should not the conversation be about how do the sides come together to make it work?

That's a difficult conversation, but one I've had in my own life. Had Kellyanne asked that question of my husband, or my sons, I have no doubt they'd have told her we would not let traditional roles define us and prevent me from taking on this role.

Anyone who has kids will tell you there is no job more important than being a parent. But in 2016 the message we should be sending – the message Is thought we were sending – is that we can be great parents and do a great job. Conway's comments, and their portrayal of a White House job, do not reflect that.

This is yet another reminder of how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality. Here's the question I keep coming back to on the topic: How do we solve a problem when the decision-makers don't recognize there is a problem?

To get there, we need more strong women setting an example at the top. We need more male leaders proximate to issues of inequality. We need both men and women to break the bad habits of what we expect from gender roles.

And where better to lead from example than the White House?

Sheila Lirio Marcelo is the Founder, Chairwoman and CEO of Care.com, the world's largest online destination for finding and managing family care.

This piece originally appeared on Care.com.