Closing The Gap

The first Black woman CEO in the Fortune 500 on work-life balance: You don't have 'to go to all your kids' games'

Ursula Burns, chairman and chief executive officer of Xerox Corp., center, speaks during a panel discussion with Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive officer of the Consumer Electronics Association, left, and Alan Mulally, president and chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co., at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The pressure of "having it all" is still alive and well: Many working mothers bear a heavier burden when it comes to balancing their careers and family.

But former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns — who became the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company in 2009 — says she never bought into that narrative. Rather, she says, she relied on her late husband Lloyd Bean to help take care of their two children, missing activities for work while scaling the career ladder. And she credits her career success to the strategy.

"I would not be able to be CEO of the company unless I outsourced the caring for my kids," Burns, 63, tells CNBC Make It. "I was not a believer that you had to go to all your kids' games. I just don't understand what that's all about."

That mindset, Burns says, sometimes prompted negative feedback from other parents — but it worked for her. Even when she attended a game, she says, she didn't watch "every second" of it. Instead, she used the time to relax and do a crossword puzzle.

"I [wasn't] a helicopter mom," she says. "We did what we had to do."

Burns led Xerox from 2009 to 2016, when the company split into two corporate entities: Xerox and Conduent. She remained Xerox's chairman until 2017.

She says that when she started to rise up the corporate ranks, Bean — a research scientist at the same company — retired early to become a stay-at-home dad. Burns' sister also lived nearby, and sometimes helped out, Burns says.

She credits the collective approach to her ability to lead Xerox while simultaneously having multiple kids in the house. "It takes a village, and we had the village," she says.

In 2009, Burns was also appointed by President Barack Obama to help lead the White House National STEM program, which encourages students to pursue STEM-related careers. She was later appointed as vice chair of the President's Export Council, a role she held from 2015 to 2016.

She has also served on the board of directors of multiple corporations including Uber, American Express and ExxonMobil. In 2014, Forbes rated her the 22nd most powerful woman in the world.

Despite missing out on after-school activities, Burns says she raised two "unbelievably good kids." At the same time, she says, her career ascent moved so quickly that it sometimes left her feeling absent from the regular motions of her day-to-day life. Her only regret: not being more present in those daily motions, from the office to her home.

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