It’s not what I expect to see on the front page of The Sunday New York Times: a long feature on Wall Street mothers who are pursuing careers, as their husbands stay home tending to house and kids.
The fact that this career strategy is an element of the “Lean In” approach – that women should pick their spouses well to advance along the corporate ladder – is less surprising to me than the fact that a work-family issue is sitting on the front page.
The Times offers several cases as examples, complete with role reversal when it comes to the traditional parenting and provider duties, set in the world of high finance.
As Jodi Kantor and Jessica Silver-Greenberg write in “Wall Street Mothers, Stay-Home Fathers,” referring to mothers in finance:
The number of women in finance with stay-at-home spouses has climbed nearly tenfold since 1980…
It appears that the way for women to go full force and achieve in this highly competitive field is either to forgo children, or fall back on a traditional model of marriage with one stay-at-home spouse, namely, the husband.
The long, grueling work days that are necessary for success in this industry?
Balance is not the issue; handing off domestic duties is.
Should female surgeons be taking note? What about women who strive for leadership positions at universities? What about scientists? What about the rest of us?
The article continues:
… the solution that turns out to work so well for these women is an inaccessible option for many others, since it requires one spouse to give up a career and the other to earn enough money to support the family. Rather than changing the culture of the banks, which promote policies on flexible hours and work life balance, these women say that to succeed they must give in to its sometimes brutal terms, from 4:45 a.m. wake-ups onward through days of ceaseless competition.
There is a great deal more in this article, which I strongly recommend.
As a woman, part of me is pleased at any option that allows other women to succeed at the career they wish to pursue and not have to walk away from being part of a couple, much less parenting.
You might argue that by yielding the largest part of parenting to their husbands, they’re doing precisely that. But we all know that men can be nurturers as well as women, just as women can be the main breadwinners in the household.
The concern for me is this: We are not addressing the fundamental shifts in work-family priority that have taken place in our culture in the past 30 years – “all” for the company, and if not “none” for the self and family, relatively speaking, not a great deal. We are not addressing the fundamental issues in our economy, which requires two incomes (or more) to make ends meet.
Both men and women are expected to put in longer hours for less pay and fewer benefits, there are fewer jobs in many industry sectors, and running job-scared, we tend to do what is asked (expected). How many are in a position to say no? How many are in competitive fields in which saying no isn’t an option?
As for the long days these women are putting in, this is hardly news. Most MBAs in finance expect to put in excessive hours by any standard. They do so for years, as do we all, following that once all-powerful and promising degree.
It is also my opinion that anyone who is passionate or laser-focused about achievement in their field will be putting in hours that go far beyond 40 or 50 a week. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO or a painter. It’s what you do because you love it, or what you do because you feel you must.
Ms. Kantor and Ms. Silver-Greenberg also write:
Flex time allowing employees to work from home one or more days a week carried stigma, the women felt. Some said they were reluctant to chase promotions that could require moves upending their families. Many female bankers still quit after having children.
It’s worth noting that the men interviewed in this feature are not without their own challenges, despite the hefty pay checks their wives bring home. And not just the challenges that mothers face routinely – the tedium of laundry and chauffeuring and household chores. There are resentments and concerns about careers that have been put on hold. There is lack of social infrastructure in the stay-at-home-dad model, i.e. acceptance and community that women have traditionally developed.
Sure, the fact that this is a “first world problem,” or more specifically, an elite, high-end challenge, is undeniable. The article is clear on that. But the finance industry is certainly one in which women are typically shut out at a certain point, as motherhood duties clash with long hours. Tough decisions have to be made – who brings in the bucks and who raises the kids.
Then again, the compensation levels in these lofty positions are such that help can be purchased, which is not necessarily as “comforting” to a loving parent as having the other parent home, and caring for the kids.
I’m not surprised that women are achieving when concerns about what’s going on at home are alleviated. I’m not surprised that anyone giving up or scaling back a career (and their ability to stay relevant) feels trepidation in the process. I’m not surprised that fathers (as in this story) are doing an excellent job raising their children.
I remain surprised that these issues are taking such prominence at The Times, and pleased – if nothing else – that the discussion is front and center.
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