On March 1, I stepped down as CEO of the company that I’ve worked at for the past 14 years. It was an emotional and complex decision. I was asked, “Why would you give up the hard-fought top job at a $20+ billion public company for personal reasons?” and, “You are at the top of your career and you are choosing to walk away?” I knew the biased assumptions my decision could prompt among the troglodytes who still question women leaders. I also know how important it is to change this antiquated notion that there is no place for personal priorities in the C-suite.
This job has been the most fulfilling and impactful role of my career. But a one-two punch of personal issues forced me to take a step back and reprioritize.
In October, Dallas experienced a tornado that barreled through the city–and my home–rendering the latter unlivable. Thankfully no one was killed, but it has disrupted and displaced my family. As I was handling our relocation, I experienced another blow. I have been pretty open about the fact that my mom and aunt died of ovarian cancer more than 16 years ago. After they passed away, I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, which creates a high risk of both breast and ovarian cancers. After watching the matriarchs of the family pass away in their young sixties, I opted 10 years ago for a preventative double mastectomy, hysterectomy, and oophorectomy (removal of my ovaries).
Fast forward to this past November, and I realized I had multiple voicemails from my doctor’s office dating back several weeks. It had been a busy period at work and travel, and I had completely missed them. When I connected with the doctor, he told me that the FDA had recalled my breast implants, because they have been linked to cancer. This would mean another round of surgery to remove and replace my implants, along with a weeks-long recovery. This would be my fourth surgery to prevent breast and ovarian cancer.
After sitting down with my husband over the holidays, I knew there was no way I could balance my personal needs and my job as CEO.
When I made the decision to resign, I wanted to be as transparent as possible about my reasons for leaving. I did it for two reasons. First, it has always been important for me to be transparent with my teams. We spend so much heart, energy, and time at the office, and work has always been personal for me. How could I stop being personal now? The second reason is that BRCA and genetic testing is relatively new. An estimated 25 million people have the mutation but only 10% are aware. If my mom and aunt would have been born 20 years earlier, they would be alive today. If my openness leads to one person getting tested, it will have been worth it to me.
In response to my email to the company explaining everything I was going through, I received so many messages from people thanking me for being so unexpectedly honest. I have even heard from female employees who are facing the same challenges I faced.
“I also have tested positive for the BRCA1 gene,” one woman wrote. “Thinking about how this might impact my life and career has played a major role in my decision-making. It’s nice to hear that you have been able to lead a company with such success while facing the same issues I have been facing. I’ll have to address getting a mastectomy and hysterectomy in the next few years, which is daunting, so I appreciate your transparency. I feel less alone, and more encouraged to press on.”
Maybe talking about breast implants, homes, and health are not standard topics for most CEOs to discuss. Maybe that’s because most CEOs are still men.
Historically women have been told to leave personal issues out of the office, but how is that even possible when our careers are so personal? It takes strength and courage to be open and honest about personal challenges and even ask for help.
While vulnerability is viewed as a drawback, I believe it can actually be empowering. It shows deep trust in the organization and those around you. When I started my career, I was so nervous to tell my boss I was pregnant or that I had a doctor’s appointment. Today we can talk about physical health, mental health, aging parents, or sick kids. I think the business community is better for it.
The executive team at Match Group is a true team. Just like any other team, you support each other, you fight to win, and when someone falls down, you help them get back up. A team needs trust to win consistently. Being honest, transparent, supportive, and sometimes vulnerable helps create an even stronger team foundation.
All leaders–both men and women–need to be honest about the struggles and sacrifices they make on a daily basis. This openness and trust can absolutely be part of a winning team. And it’s part of the DNA at Match Group, which I know will continue without me.
Mandy Ginsberg is the former CEO of Match Group whose dating products include Tinder, Match.com, OkCupid, Hinge, PlentyofFish, and others.