Skip to content

Women: Want A Bigger Career? Marry A Man Who Will Stay Home “Choose Your Spouse Carefully”

December 1, 2014

Women have often spoken of how they want a wife, with the term implied to mean a person who will forgo their own career tract to exclusively support the spouse’s career, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids, and all of that. For women who want a career, yet another study shows that having a “wife” makes a difference. A big difference, as in the difference between office manager and CEO difference:

When Carly Fiorina became Hewlett-Packard’s (HPQ) first female chief executive officer, the existence of her househusband, Frank Fiorina, who had retired early from AT&T (T) to support her career, was a mini-sensation; now this arrangement isn’t at all unusual. Seven of the 18 women who are currently CEOs of Fortune 500 companies—including Xerox’s (XRX) Ursula Burns, PepsiCo’s (PEP) Indra Nooyi, and WellPoint’s (WLP) Angela Braly—have, or at some point have had, a stay-at-home husband. So do scores of female CEOs of smaller companies and women in other senior executive jobs. Others, like IBM’s (IBM) new CEO, Ginni Rometty, have spouses who dialed back their careers to become their powerful wives’ chief domestic officers.

Women who earn more than their husbands are not uncommon, with almost a quarter of working women earning more than their husbands. Granted, we could say only 20% of women earn more than their husbands, or 80% of husbands earn more than their wives, but still, even close to a quarter of women earning more than their male counterpart is a step up:

This role reversal is occurring more and more as women edge past men at work. Women now fill a majority of jobs in the U.S., including 51.4 percent of managerial and professional positions, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Some 23 percent of wives now out-earn their husbands, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center. And this earnings trend is more dramatic among younger people. Women 30 and under make more money, on average, than their male counterparts in all but three of the largest cities in the U.S.


Part of this is due to the nation’s rather recent recession. Women stayed employed when men did not. Very simple.

During the recent recession, three men lost their jobs for every woman. Many unemployed fathers, casualties of layoffs in manufacturing and finance, have ended up caring for their children full-time while their wives are the primary wage earners. The number of men in the U.S. who regularly care for children under age five increased to 32 percent in 2010 from 19 percent in 1988, according to Census figures. Among those fathers with preschool-age children, one in five served as the main caregiver.

Then, the article that points this out goes on to lament the role of stay-at-home dads not getting the respect they had at the office, duh! It’s a very familiar position for women, and while I liked the focus on women who have husbands who stay at home moving up in the workplace, the article I just quoted moves into focusing on the “poor men” idea as opposed to keeping on task with talking about women.

Keep going with the article though, and the whining about men’s plights moves more toward an aggressive “get-out-of-her-way” stance that I admire, albeit waiting to do this until the second page:

There’s some good news about the at-home dads trend. “By going against the grain, men get to stretch their parenting abilities and women can advance,” notes Stephanie Coontz, a family studies professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and author of Marriage: a History. And yet the trend underscores something else: When jobs are scarce or one partner is aiming high, a two-career partnership is next to impossible. “Top power jobs are so time-consuming and difficult, you can’t have two spouses doing them and maintain a marriage and family,” says Coontz. This explains why, even as women make up more of the workforce, they’re still a small minority (14 percent, according to New York-based Catalyst) in senior executive jobs. When they reach the always-on, all-consuming executive level, “it’s still women who more often put family ahead of their careers,” says Ken Matos, a senior director at Families and Work Institute in New York. It may explain, too, why bookstore shelves and e-book catalogs are jammed with self-help books for ambitious women, of which I’d Rather Be in Charge, by former Ogilvy-Mather Worldwide CEO Charlotte Beers, is merely the latest. Some, such as Hirshman’s top-selling Get to Work, recommend that women “marry down”—find husbands who won’t mind staying at home—or wed older men who are ready to retire as their careers take off.

Surprisingly, it was another man who told a major CEO’s husband that he needed to step up for his wife, and very surprisingly, this husband listened. He didn’t just say that he would help with housework to free up her time, he took over managing the house and children so that she could move up in her career:

Your wife’s career is about to soar, and you need to get out of her way.” That’s what Ken Gladden says his boss told him shortly before his wife, Dawn Lepore, was named the first female CIO at Charles Schwab (SCHW) in 1994. He was a vice-president at Schwab in computer systems. Lepore’s promotion meant she’d become his top boss. “I married above my station,” Gladden jokes.

How does this work? Dawn Lepore’s husband admits that what he does isn’t easy, but Ken Gladden is very honest about recognizing that he can’t and doesn’t do what his wife does:

“To do what I’m doing, you’ve got to be able to say ‘my wife’s the breadwinner, the more powerful one,’ and be O.K. with that. But you also need your own interests,” says Gladden, who has used his computing skills to launch a home-based business developing software for schools.

The couple’s five-bedroom Seattle home overlooks Lake Washington. Gladden, 63, is chief administrator of it and their children, who now are 9 and 13. While they’re in school, he works on his software. From 3 p.m. until bedtime, he carpools to and from sports and music lessons, warms up dinners prepared by a part-time housekeeper, and supervises homework. Lepore, 57, is often out of town. She oversaw the sale of to Walgreens (WAG) last year, for $429 million. As CEO, she was rarely home before 8 or 9 p.m. and traveled several days a week. Now, as a consultant to several startups and a director at EBay (EBAY), she still travels frequently. If Gladden envies anything, it’s the ease with which his wife can walk into a room filled with well-known executives like Bill Gates and “go right up to them and start talking. I don’t feel like I can participate,” he says.

What is Dawn Lepore’s advice for women who want to have a career like hers? Choose your spouse carefully.

Lepore advises younger women to “choose your spouse carefully. If you want a top job, you need a husband who isn’t self-involved and will support your success,” even if you go further than him.

Just goes to show that advice like “lean in” has nothing on the realities of “choose your spouse carefully.” Lean in is the type of advice that blames women for their lack of advancement, pushing on women an addictive sort of  self blame, as if they just tried harder than men, they could prove their worth and then advance. The idea that a woman’s spouse has an impact on her career is an anathema to most feminists, but is a stark reality when it comes to women advancing in their careers.

The most compelling change might come from the children of couples in which the man does the housework and stays home. Remember the post about how just having dads do housework increases the chances that his daughter will be ambitious?

Just goes to show that the children of men who do the housework, stay at home, and support their wives, expect that the same will be true for them. Nothing says truth like action.

The children of couples who have reversed roles know the stakes better than anyone. One morning last year, when Dawn Lepore was packing for a business trip to New York, her nine-year-old daughter burst into tears. “I don’t want you to travel so much,” Elizabeth told her mother. Lepore hugged her, called her school, and said her daughter would be staying home that morning. Then she rescheduled her flight until much later that day. “There have been times when what Elizabeth wants most is a mom who stays home and bakes cookies,” she says.

Lepore is sometimes concerned that her children won’t be ambitious because they’ve often heard her complain about how exhausted she is after work. But they’re much closer to their father than kids whose dads work full-time, and they have a different perspective about men’s and women’s potential. When a friend of her daughter’s said that fathers go to offices every day, Lepore recalls, “Elizabeth replied, ‘Don’t be silly, dads are at home.’ ”


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: