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What a CEO mom’s viral nanny ad says about gender, work, and power

Is it okay to look for a nanny who can ski?

A black and white photo of a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes.
A kitchen sink full of dirty dishes is seen in a photo from the 1960s.
Retrofile/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

“Seeking Household Manager/Cook/Nanny.”

This was the brief but loaded title in a job ad that went viral last week, inspiring debate around everything from the culture of Silicon Valley “disruption” to the meaning of the word “wife.”

The ad, posted on the Calendar Group, a job search platform owned by Google, listed the requirements for a job with a “CEO family in Menlo Park, CA with girl-boy twin 10-year-olds.” Some were relatively run-of-the-mill, like being able to help the kids with their homework and being a safe driver (the family would provide the car). Others were more unusual, like having the ability to “strategically think through vacation options based on the developmental levels of the kids and the need for the mom to relax,” enjoying “river swimming,” and, preferably, being able to ski. All told, the ad came in at more than 1,000 words.

The ad went viral on Thursday thanks to a now-deleted tweet by author Kimberly Harrington, who dared readers “to find ANYTHING more bananas batshit than this.”

Criticism was swift, with many arguing that the incredibly long list of requirements and preferences signaled that the mom would likely be a terrible employer. Some saw the ad as an attempt by a highly privileged parent to “disrupt” family life, with Jezebel’s Emily Alford joking that that poster was basically looking for a person “to act as a stand-in for another human’s existence.”

On Saturday, the poster of the ad responded to some of the criticism in an interview with Slate. She noted that she is a single mom, something that some readers of the ad may have missed. “If I had a two-parent household, I would assume that the other parent would at least be doing” some of the things she outlines in the ad, she said.

The poster also mentioned “I Want a Wife,” a 1971 essay published in Ms. Magazine in which writer Judy Brady muses on how nice it would be, as a woman, to have someone on hand to do all of the tasks that wives and mothers are expected to perform for families.

“It’s 39 years later,” the CEO mom, who has remained anonymous, told Slate. “And as a working woman, I need a wife.”

Her explanation didn’t stop the criticism, however. And her ad has opened up larger conversations about the labor involved in raising kids, who does that labor, and what its conditions and compensation should be.

When it comes to the work of child care, “our society is broken,” the CEO mom said. Many would agree. But how to fix it is a harder question, one that most people aren’t able to solve by hiring someone, whether that’s a “household manager/cook/nanny” or a “wife.”

A CEO and single mom is looking for a nanny who can cook, ski, use Excel — and much more

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that the CEO mom’s ad was very, very specific. The duties of the position include:

  • “Conduct research into domestic and global vacation options based on criteria, populate information into a simple Excel spreadsheet, recommend and book vacations, track vacation expenses in Excel including track vacation home deposits getting returned”
  • “Compare and make recommendations regarding using credit card points to [book] vacations versus paying cash”
  • “Assist 10-year olds with light homework in long division, subtraction, and writing. Play math games with them, such as ‘How much fish should we buy today for five of us?’ and ‘How long will it take us to drive to the snow if it’s 150 miles and we go 50 miles an hour?’”
  • “[R]eview and modify household handbook, kids’ chore sheet, etc.”
  • “[B]uild alliances with other kids’ parents and nannies and arrange playdates and joint travel with other families.”

The right candidate, the ad says, will be physically fit and talented — “can ski at least at an intermediate level (preferred)” — able to cook organic meals and research the latest developments in food science, and, ideally, fluent in Spanish or French. Moreover, the right candidate will have both “room in their heart to love the kids and the mom” and “appropriate boundaries in relationships and interactions.” As many noted, the two seem to contradict each other. Is the right candidate supposed to “love” her boss or maintain healthy boundaries in an employer-employee relationship?

Initial reactions to the ad fell into a few camps. To a lot of readers, working for the CEO mom sounded like a nightmare.

Alford wrote that the ad seemed like an “attempt to revolutionize the day-to-day business of existing as a pair of human beings with a couple of children by outsourcing the job to a single individual who could also act as chef, account, travel agent, math teacher, and personal trainer, like the iPhone of people.”

Alford also joked that the listing “assures potential applicants that the family is ‘civil rights oriented’ and most likely will only discriminate against those who are not French-speaking travel agent math genius skiers.”

Meanwhile, at the Guardian, Poppy Noor wrote, “If you want to be a nanny for a CEO these days, you’d better be a top-rate chef, professional athlete, and stunt driver — all for a salary dependent on experience, naturally.”

Others argued that the CEO mom was just being clear in her requirements. “As a nanny with 15 years NYC experience and a mom myself, I’d jump on the opportunity to work for that family,” a Twitter user going by Zora said. “She’s clear in her expectations & focused on raising healthy kids in a balanced, loving home.”

Some said a busy working mom shouldn’t be criticized for hiring someone to take care of some of the very real responsibilities of parenthood, as long as she paid well. “That household manager thing seems fine to me, as long as they pay decently,” New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum tweeted.

Meanwhile, writer and podcast host Doree Shafrir tweeted, “It seems pretty clear she’s a single mom, no? And is looking for someone to basically ... be a wife.”

On Saturday, the CEO mom told Slate that’s exactly what she’s looking for. “Here it is January, and I’m having to spend hours of my time, like late at night, trying to figure out summer camp and get them signed up for sports and all that,” she said in her interview with Slate’s Ruth Graham. “I think that people related to the post because it’s absolutely true. If you’re a working woman, you need a wife.”

She also said the job would pay $35 to $40 an hour, with time-and-a-half for overtime, paid time off, and health benefits, as well as a cottage to live in and a car to use. That works out to a salary of about $86,000, before taxes and benefits, according to Garrett Schlichte at Jezebel.

In the interview, the mom also made a distinction between a “grandmotherly baby nanny” and a “wife,” saying, “What differentiates the nice, grandmotherly baby nanny from this wife type is the executive functioning: the ability to plan, to do research, to make good decisions about ‘this is the right flag football team versus that one and this is why.’”

Her somewhat odd taxonomy of child care roles inspired its own criticism. “Thank god someone is doing the important work of parsing out the wife types from the grandmotherly baby nannies,” Schlichte wrote, “because otherwise she might be left with someone who wouldn’t be able to both arrange a ski vacation and then also take her kids down the mountain while she, apparently, enjoys herself at après-ski.”

The debate is a reminder of something America sometimes forgets: Child care is work

The entire episode, aside from providing some entertainment for internet users burnt out on President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, raised a lot of questions about class inequality, gender double standards, and child care in America.

For example, many pointed out that high-powered men are rarely criticized for outsourcing child care and household duties (though sometimes they outsource them to their wives). “If I were Scott McNealy, former CEO of Sun Microsystems, and I’d done this ad, nobody would think twice,” the CEO mom told Slate.

The ad itself was so over-the-top that it might have made something of a splash regardless of its poster’s gender. But the mom is probably right that there’s something about mothers seeking help with the responsibilities of child care and housework that tends to rub Americans the wrong way.

The US is one of the only countries in the world to lack mandated paid parental leave. And while other nations offer generous subsidies for child care, ours are woefully inadequate. A lot of the reason is that Americans still think parents — and, specifically, moms — should be doing all the work of caring for their kids.

In a 2019 Pew poll, 21 percent of US adults said mothers of young children should not work outside the home, while 42 percent said they should work part-time. Just 33 percent said it was best for a mother to work full-time, while a full 76 percent said it was best if dads worked full-time outside the home.

Moreover, as some defenders of the CEO mom pointed out, she doesn’t have a spouse who could support the family even if she did want to stay home, nor does she have a partner to help her take care of tasks such as cooking for her kids or driving them to sports practice.

But some argued the mom’s need for help with child care labor shouldn’t stop people from asking what kind of employer she’d be.

“Now, I know what you’re all thinking: when a man outsources his child care, nobody bats an eyelid — and here we are laughing at a single mom who made it and just wants to lean in,” Noor wrote at the Guardian. “That’s a fair point — but it shouldn’t make us feel any less bad for the nanny.”

For a lot of critics, the extremely long laundry list of requirements and suggestions in the ad raised concerns that its poster would micromanage her employee or have unreasonably high expectations of them. The entire Jezebel staff got together and determined that, collectively, they only “almost” met the qualifications for the position.

Meanwhile, some of the criticism likely came because the mom is not only asking for someone to do spreadsheets and cook organic meals but also asking for someone to love her and her kids. And even though she’s paying relatively well — far above the average wage for child care workers in America, which is $10.82 an hour — there will almost certainly be a gulf in power between her, as the employer, and the person she employs to both care for her family and love them. And asking for love in addition to the performance of needed tasks may turn the CEO’s posting from a highly complicated job ad into a request for something more than work, something for which it may not be possible to fairly compensate a worker.

“I’m a loving person,” the CEO mom told Slate. “I love the people I work with in my business. I love the people I work with in my home. My housekeeper, who’s the cousin of my former nanny, we love each other like sisters.”

But the mom presumably has the ability to hire and fire her housekeeper and anyone else who works for her. They’re not family members. And so it’s reasonable to ask whether the CEO mom — or really any employer hiring someone for a highly demanding nanny job — will treat whoever is hired fairly or whether she’ll make unreasonable demands of her employee in terms of physical, intellectual, and emotional labor.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and the larger public conversation about a high-powered woman’s (who’s often white) career advancement has led to a larger debate about whether that advancement comes at the expense of the workers, usually female and usually lower-income, who provide child care and other household services like cleaning.

While the average child care provider makes just over $10 an hour, some dog walkers in New York City make more than caregivers for babies do, Leslie Banks reported at the Wall Street Journal on Saturday. A majority of child care workers are women, and 40 percent are women of color. In many states, they lack union representation, and nannies and housekeepers are exempt from federal harassment protections. In other words, the CEO mom might be a good boss, but child care workers in America have few protections from bad ones.

Ultimately, the ad made one thing incredibly visible: Raising kids is work, sometimes a lot of work. And whoever does it, whether it’s a parent, paid caregiver, or someone else, deserves to do that work in fair conditions, with their needs met and their humanity respected. Regardless of whether that’ll be the case in the CEO mom’s home, it’s not the case for too many child care workers in America — something that, if nothing else, the discourse around the ad can perhaps illuminate.