When a top CEO quits to be a better dad it’s a giant leap forward for women execs

August 6, 2014, 7:29 PM UTC
contract armin harris
Kyle Bean for Fotune

When Today Show host Matt Lauer sat down with General Motors’ (GM) CEO Mary Barra in late June, he asked the automaker’s first female leader:

You said in an interview not long ago that your kids said they’re going to hold you accountable for one job, and that is being a mom. Given the pressure at General Motors, can you do both well?

Barra graciously answered the question, telling Lauer that she has a great team, a wonderful family and a supportive husband. Notably, she didn’t turn that question back on Lauer to ask how he handles his demanding work schedule at NBC and still manages to be a good father.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASB4X3gVjFI&w=560&h=315]
Male executives almost never hear that question. MongoDB’s now-former CEO Max Schireson can attest to that.

The head of the database company decided to step down Tuesday after asking himself how he can balance the dual demands of fatherhood and running a company.

“As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO,” wrote Schireson in a blog post explaining why he decided to step down as the chief executive for MongoDB.

Women are still the focus of the “having it all” debate and questions of whether or not they can be wildly successful at both a high-powered job and day-to-day parenting. Now their male counterparts are asking the same question of themselves.

Schireson, who helped grow the database company into a billion-dollar business, is on pace to fly 300,000 miles this year between the normal CEO travel duties and commuting from his home in Palo Alto, Calif. to the company’s New York City office.

All that time on the road adds up to many hours and days away from his family, including three kids.

“During that travel, I have missed a lot of family fun, perhaps, more importantly, I was not with my kids when our puppy was hit by a car, or when my son had (minor and successful, and of course unexpected) emergency surgery.”

He credits his wife for helping to pick up the slack when he was away. Not an easy task considering her high-pressure role as a doctor and Stanford professor.

“Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood,” Schireson wrote. “Somehow, the same people don’t ask me.”

Questions like these have gnawed at women, who openly debate the value of work and family. Sheryl Sandberg has encouraged women to “lean in.” Cover articles in national magazines have delved into the minutiae of making the right choice as a mom and a professional, not to mention the countless blog posts in response to both.

While it’s enviable that Schireson can step down as CEO to simply work “normal full time” as vice chairman, the fact that a male CEO is asking the same questions that a female CEO might ask is an important step towards leveling the playing field for top executives, regardless of their gender.

It’s time for the “having it all” debate to move beyond gender. The math is the same, as Schireson concludes, whether you’re male or female:

Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday? Maybe. Life is about choices. Right now, I choose to spend more time with my family and am confident that I can continue to have an meaningful and rewarding work life while doing so.