By Beate Chelette, Special for USDR
Could the secret behind a successful executive working mom be her husband—a stay-at-home dad who acts as her support system and the primary caregiver for their children?
The number of mothers who work in finance and have stay-at-home spouses has increased steadily since 1980. The so-called Mothers of Wall Street rose from 2,980 in 1980 to 21,617 by 2011*. Exceptionally successful women, Indra Nooyi (current CEO of PepsiCo) and Angela Braly (former CEO of Wellpoint) both had stay-at-home husbands at one point.
Is this trend a shift to the other side of equality?
When we look at financial compensation, men and women are still not on par for the most part. But, we are getting closer. Women even earn more than men in some cases. Out of 300 of the largest publicly traded US companies, only fourteen were lead by women. Of these women, eight made more than the average CEO, while six earned less. “The female CEOs delivered a median total shareholder return of 36%, versus 34% for the full survey,” says this Wall Street Journal Online article.
While we can’t claim equality quite yet, we are making inroads.
For men and woman alike, the path to success is similar. Nobody rises to the top by thoughts and wishes alone. Extraordinary success in business requires significant personal investment, often at the expense of our personal lives. Without putting 10,000 hours in (as Malcom Gladwell explains), it is unlikely that anyone will achieve lasting success. It is called work for a reason. We need to put in the time and the effort for our boss to notice our extraordinary contributions before we are offered that promoted. It takes time for everyone.
As opportunities increase for women to advance in business, we continue to see the shift from “housewife supports working husband” to “both partners work” to “househusband supports working mom.” Can we expect the current trend to continue to climb? Yes, I think we can. Especially in executive management positions and other jobs that require long hours and weekend work, the trend of stay-at-home-dads who support their working wives or partners is here to stay.
The scenario of a man behind the woman in a relationship will become one of the “norm” partnership models from which couples can choose. The decision will depend on who has the larger earning potential and who has the desire to be a caretaker. Of course, as in any partnership model, both partners must maintain respect for each other by accepting that each role is equally important and necessary for their mutual benefit.
There is no reason why a man can’t and shouldn’t support his woman’s career. We don’t all want the same—I know men who wish they could spend significantly more time with their children. If a man wants do to so and finds personal fulfillment through that choice, why should anyone tell him it’s not acceptable?
Currently, the decision for most men to work outside the home is based on financial need over preference. Dr. Brad Harrington from the Boston College Center for Work & Family surveyed 1000 fathers and found 53% of them would be stay-at-home dads if their spouses earned sufficient income to support the entire family. The option for men to fill the at-home role will become increasingly viable as the compensation gap closes.
In our patriarchal society, we still have a long way to go before the househusband scenario is deemed completely acceptable. Most of us expect men to have the alpha role outside the home, whereas women are the primary care giver within the family. Men who don’t follow the proven path are often judged as unmanly and even weak. On the flipside, working women have equally harsh judgments to overcome. Alpha women are viewed as aggressive and unfeminine, and are quickly labeled as bitches. When a husband and wife defy the norm or push established boundaries, their relationship carries an extra burden of figuring out how to make their relationship work while challenging society’s rules.
As a personal example, I married an African-American man twenty years ago. There were only two other mixed families at my daughter’s school at that time. People talked. It just wasn’t common then, but today it’s nothing. Interracial relationships are everywhere and are widely accepted.
Traditional models are being cracked wide open everywhere we go. I predict the same acceptance will come for stay-at-home dads.
There have always been people who push boundaries and define for themselves the lifestyle that best fits their needs. Many times, the definition of “normal” eventually changes and that “unusual” way of life is not so unorthodox after all. Society continuously defines new relationship and business models—it’s simply evolution.
Traditional business structures were designed by men for men. We are still waiting for our business systems to evolve with better functioning and more supportive systems that will allow women to embrace motherhood and have successful careers. We can have it all when that happens. Until then, accepting the trend of stay-at-home-dads is one way our society can support more women to rise to executive positions.
* Source: Analysis of University of Minnesota IPUMS data by Queens College Sociology Department. 2011 is a weighted average of the years 2007 to 2011.
Beate Chelette is a nationally known gender decoder, respected career coach, successful entrepreneur, author of Happy Women Happy World, and founder of The Women’s Code. At her lowest point, Beate was $135,000 in debt, a single mother, and forced to leave her home. Only 18 months later, she sold her company to Bill Gates for millions of dollars. Beate cracked the code and came out on top. In The Women’s Code, she openly shares her secrets to personal and career success and happiness. Beate envisions a community of women helping and supporting each other. The Women’s Code serves as a guide to personal and career success and offers a new code of conduct at home, at work, and at play.
To purchase her book, Happy Woman Happy World, visit Beate online.