Halving the ‘double burden’

One of the most cited obstacles to women’s advancement is the so-called “double burden” of career and responsibility for the home and/or children.

This double burden is not necessarily a result of macho men refusing to do their share of domestic duties. More often, it is the outcome of a man’s career demands taking precedence over a woman’s.

Examining the domestic set-ups of the FT’s top 50 global women chief executives, Lucy Kellaway says she could not find a “single one with an alpha male husband”.

She argues that high-flying women get there because the men in their lives agree to soft-pedal their own careers, and she cites as an example Gregg Ahrendts, “who wound up his construction business so Angela could be chief executive of Burberry”.

In a talk posted on the TED website, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, advises “making your partner a real partner” so that you approach your two careers and your joint responsibilities for home and family as a joint enterprise.

The advantage of this approach is that it places the pressure to compromise equally on both partners. Men benefit by taking a bigger share of childcare and home life, while women are not left carrying the responsibilities of home life exclusively.

In a recent interview for this blog, Janice Chaffin, group president at Symantec, said that when her daughters were young, her software-architect husband chose jobs that involved no travel because her career demanded it. He picked the kids up from school, and the couple employed a live-in nanny to help create practical stability at home.

The home/work dynamic does not have to be a zero-sum game where one member of the domestic partnership has the career while the other supports domestically. It may be possible, with the support of more flexible employment practices and a good deal of advance planning, for both men and women to achieve high-octane careers without forcing their partners out of the game.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.