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.

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