Why Female CEOs Need a Wife – Or At Least at Stay-At-Home Husband

Anyone – man or woman – who hopes to rise to the position of C.E.O. needs a big support system. In the past, “People used to say that men needed a wife at home and a wife at the office — the traditional secretary,” Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter said in a recent New York Times article. “Now women need the same thing: an assistant at work and a stay-at-home husband or at least a husband who’s very flexible and supportive. Anyone who hopes to be a corporate chief executive needs a big support system.”

When asked what men could do to help advance women’s leadership, Ms. Kanter, author of the landmark Men and Women of the Corporation, answered, “The laundry.”

There’s still a social stigma for the stay-at-home or less successful husband that women don’t face. And management experts say that that has to change if women are going to be represented in the top jobs at a level commensurate with their numbers and talent.

“Women are not going to say, ‘My husband is not as successful as he could have been because he’s been supporting me,’ ” Ms. Kanter went on to say. “It would be seen as putting him down. But when the shoe is on the other foot, men say, ‘She really helped me.’ People say, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that he has someone who allows him to focus on his work?’ This is culturally valued.”

Statistics suggest that people who aspire to America’s top corporate jobs had better have a spouse, partner or someone else willing to be devoted to their career.

While this is common sense, common sense usually takes a vacation when it comes to dating and relationships. While alpha males might be attracted to alpha females, the most common and successful relationships occur where partners have different roles. If both people are working 60 hours a week, nobody has much to give to the relationship.

A CEO needs a really patient, supportive and understanding partner who’s going to stick by his/her side. Which is why this is a core principle of my dating coaching – date your complement, not your clone.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    K.

    If you’re a CEO you can afford to hire help to do the laundry and cooking. But I agree – I don’t see how both people in the relationship can work 60 hr weeks and have it survive. Someone will have to slow down.

  2. 2
    devymetal

    This is just common sense. Establishing a practical division of labor is key in romantic relationships. If one partner is the more career-oriented, how on earth can a balanced, happy domestic life be achieved if the other partner isn’t devoted to keeping the home fires burning? Even outsourcing the chores still won’t create a balance of *energy* in the relationship. 

    My fiance works incredibly long hours in a high-stress professional environment, and I take care of everything else. We are both blissfully happy with this arrangement. I couldn’t imagine working the long hours I used to work before we met and still creating the level of peace and stability we have in our home– it would be impossible. It wouldn’t be “challenging”, or potential madcap fodder for a Sarah Jessica Parker movie. Rather it would be a total fail wherein he would be in nutritional/domestic shambles and I would be stressed-out and lacking in nurture and the critical (for me) ability to have a clean, beautiful home with all the resources I need.

    I realize many women are more career-oriented than I am, but if I were, I wouldn’t be looking for a male version of myself. Who would fold the towels? Who would give me massages after an 80-hour work week? These are critical factors– seriously, someone has to be there to support you career-driven ladies. A “real” man can still fulfill this role. It’s just a matter of finding one and being open to such a relationship. 

  3. 3
    Rene

    I have met very few men who are willing to say, “yes, I would like for my educated wife to stay at home with the kids/take care of the house while I earn the money.”  Please tell me where this kind of guy is, because I have yet to have a relationship with someone with this kind of outlook.  Until then, I have to keep pursuing my career.  I can tell you that many women, at least friends of mine, are working only because they have to, not because they really want to.  Otherwise, why would we bother to care about a man’s income potential?  Thus, because we are in a position to be “independent” we really have no choice but to keep climbing the corporate ladder.  It doesn’t make any sense not to.  If, one day, our partners say that work is optional, we will exercise that option! 

  4. 4
    Steve

    I grew up in a liberal household.   I had a job in college where a lot of my coworkers were feminists.   On an intellectual level I can’t see there being any big deal with a man being a house husband.   On other levels I would never do it.  I wouldn’t feel comfortable with someone supporting me for more than a short time.  I’ve dated women who make more than I do, but not by a whole lot.  I don’t think I would feel comfortable dating a woman in another tax bracket or economic class.  I used to be neighbors with a house husband couple.  The dude stayed home all day and took care of their infant.   Despite all of my beliefs on an intellectual level I found myself feeling contempt for that guy. 

  5. 5
    Sayanta

    I highly doubt there are many men who want to be househusbands. So what’s a woman who loves her career supposed to do? No easy answer here, but here’s a Lady Gaga quote I like:

    “some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your dreams aren’t going to wake up one day and tell you they don’t love you anymore.”

    1. 5.1
      Augustine Thomas

      “remember that your dreams aren’t going to wake up one day and tell you they don’t love you anymore.”

      Hell yes they are! A lot more likely than kids!
      (Kids are the only people who will take care of dying old secularists–other secularists want to euthanize them.)

  6. 6
    Sayanta

    Also, in today’s economy, 40 hour workweeks are not an option

  7. 7
    Nicole

    This is probably true, esp. as the person moves up the ladder, but if you give up your own ability to pay your bills to support someone else’s career, then you’d better get something in writing about what will happen to you should you divorce.

    I have a lot of successful female college classmates who have house husbands, and they are high up enough the corporate ladder that it makes sense.  But I’d advocate for their rights for a fair settlement should those women ever decide to leave the relationship, b/c we are talking about YEARS of no income for one partner.   

    I personally think this is a good reason to maybe aim a little below the top, b/c I don’t want to give up my career for anyone, and don’t want to have to support someone forever either.   

  8. 9
    devymetal

    Hi Rene,

    Something to note: the ultra-traditional (not repressive, but naturally of that persuasion) heteronormative men who are happy to support a stay-at-home wife are only really attracted to women who are their feminine counterparts/complements. So the best way to find and attract a man who 1.) dotes on you unconditionally and 2.) puts no pressure on you to pursue a full-time career in favor of pursuits which may or may not be economically-motivated is to *be* the happy homemaker, sweet, supportive domestic goddess type with traditional values.

    If that’s not who you really are as a woman, then it’ll be hard for you to find a man who will be down with supporting you because men who follow that very traditional marriage model want a woman who does also. It may not actually be what you want, in fact. It works for me, but my partner works 70-90 hours a week and I like to do charity work/stay fit/make our home beautiful.

  9. 10
    Hadley Paige

     
    That stay at home partner/wife of the high flying CEO woman better be a woman bc that CEO woman is not going to respect any stay at home guy. And that lack of respect is going to erode her love of him which will lead to a divorce. I don’t want it to be that way. I don’t need it to be that way. But that’s the way I have seen it go down.
    Frankly. I wouldn’t mind doing it, in theory.  But my experience has been that (rightly or wrongly) a woman who says that she can have a satisfying long term relationship with a stay at home guy is lying – either to the listener or to herself; or she is naive or delusional. And if she says she can’t or won’t do that (househusband) then if a feminist she gets the hypocrisy award for calling for full equality but only demanding it in those areas where it is advantageous to the woman.
     

  10. 11
    Ruby

    CEOs are a pretty small minority. I’ve actually known a few men who were stay-at-home husbands, but their wives had more down-to-earth, but still very busy careers ranging from nurse to television producer. It sounds like it could be a great arrangement, and perhaps it is initially, but all the women wound up resenting their husbands for not contributing more financially. On the other hand, I’ve known a few men who had stay-at-home wives and ultimately ended up resenting them for not being more career-oriented. In general, most couples I see seem to want more equity in their relationships.

  11. 12
    Steve

    There actually are female CEOs now.  What are their marital arrangements, for the sake of argument?

  12. 13
    Nicole

    @Sayanta, I LOVE that quote, and it sums up how I feel perfectly.  You have a lot more control over your life if you never give up your ability to pay your own bills.

    I mean, it’s a personal choice, but if you gamble that way and lose, it’s kind of on you, and I hate hearing people whine about how they got left with nothing for that very reason.  

    If you are really that high up the ladder, professions like teachers make for good mates b/c they can take sabbaticals and at most can only find part-time summer work (e.g. summer school teaching).  

    @Steve, I recall reading an article several years ago in Forbes that talked about that…and the women profiled had husbands who had either quit working all together or just settled for low profile careers, as in rank and file engineers for example.  I mean, if you look at some of the highest ranking female execs currently, it’s a mix, and as I said, in my own life, I know women are very high up the food chain (SVPs, C-level execs) married to house husbands, engineers, teachers, and other “regular” white and sometimes blue collar jobs.   Those are all jobs that are very 9 to 5 at the non-managerial/administrative level. 

    Meg Whitman’s husband is a doctor but followed her jobs, and that is actually a good career for someone who has to follow a corporate type b/c you can work anywhere in the country where you have passed board exams. Carly Fiorina’s husband was at AT&T when she was there but I think either didn’t work at all or again had a more “regular” white collar job when she led HP.  Andrea Jung of Avon was married to the CEO of Bloomingdales.  Some other female execs do have successful marriages with male execs;  when I was in business school we had a talk from a CEO and I was surprised that his wife was a high ranking exec in her company.  I think that Ursula Burns’s husband is just a regular white collar employee at Xerox(a scientist), and I’m not sure what the husband of the incoming CEO of IBM does. 

    Oh, but a recent profile in the NY times said that out of 28 women who had been CEO of Fortune 500 companies, 26 had been married, only one was never married,  and only one was divorced (I’m assuming Andrea Jung).   

  13. 14
    Sayanta

    Here’s an article about female CEOs and their husbands. It’s from 2002, but still a decent read.
     
    money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2002/10/14/330033/index.htm

  14. 15
    Margaret

    @ Nicole, # 13.  I couldn’t agree with you more.  I think there is a danger in engaging in black/white thinking about relationships, because there are WAY too many variables and permutations that account for why some couples make it, and some don’t.

    I have seen many, many examples, both in my personal sphere and in the public forum, that demonstrate that it is all probably at least partly random.    How many sweet, gorgeous, supportive wives have done everything right in a marriage, only to be left for a younger woman  after 40? Conversely, I have known some demanding, selfish, fat shrews who are married to great men that do not leave them.

    Also, many successful people I know, i.e., doctors, are often married to another doctor or someone in an equally demanding profession.  I have been in medicine for almost 25 years.  I have seen a very big change in the dynamics of relationships of the younger professionals coming up.   The residents and fellows I know that are late 20s to late 30s seem to be mostly in egalitarian marriages (both with demanding careers) and it doesn’t seem to be an issue for them.
    I think many of the younger men expect that their wife will have a career, even if she does stay home with the kids for a time.  A small minority of the younger male doctors I know have a stay-at-home wives.

    It is not just alpha females that do not enjoy the home-making role.  I don’t consider myself alpha and was never interested in being Suzy Homemaker, even as a little girl.  My two sisters are domestic goddesses, and enjoy it.
    As someone else pointed out, you can always hire a cook and housekeeper if you are making the big bucks. 

    In any case, the bottom line is that there are no guarantees, regardless of the choice you make.  I could never be dependent on any one for support, because, in many cases, it is a trap. 

  15. 16
    Trenia

    If all these CEO’s want is someone to be at their beck and call and available to rub their feet whenever they need it, why not just go for a live-in prostitute? It would make things so much easier.
    Secondly, I live in New York City and the cost of living is quite high. There are very few people who are in a position to have a spouse stay at home without earning an income. So, the nature of this discussion is either reserved for the top 5% of the U.S. population, or for those who live in a place where the cost of living is relatively low compared to income.

    1. 16.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Yes, Trenia, this is reserved for the top 5% of the population. You can tell because the title referred to CEOs. And if you’re a CEO, you don’t need a second income.

  16. 17
    Mike

    I think if you want to be a high flying CEO.. you better just get used to the idea that a real relationship isn’t part of the package deal. Just ask any hollywood entertaiment actor or musician. Just ask Kim Kardashian.

    Point is, if either person is working 60 hours a week, that’s 60 hours a week you are away from your partner. And that’s just not conducive.

    You want money, wealth, prestige and work all the long hours to get it? Then give up on holding down a proper relationship because you don’t have the time/energy/resources to cultivate and keep one. Anyone who says it’s been done is lying or looking past the fact that some arrangements are simply a matter of convenience and not based on real feelings. When relationships are built like on a business and economic model, it may work.. but i wouldn’t not call that a ‘real’ relationship.

    It’s all about balance. Work/life. When it’s out of balance, somethings gonna give.

  17. 18
    Sayanta

    Mike-

    Did you read Nicole’s post and the link to the article that I posted? How do you explain that?

  18. 19
    Nicole

    @Sayanta,
    I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of job Mike has that he thinks that people who work 60 hours a week can’t have successful relationships. I don’t think he read any of it and this is his chance to gripe at gold-digging women and their superficiality despite our discussion being about high-powered, highly-paid FEMALE executives and CEOs.  

    Besides the fact that many blue collar professionals and skilled tradespeople will work those kinds of hours b/c of the overtime pay, he’s pretty much wrongly assuming that doctors, lawyers, consultants, nurses, i-bankers,  and low level managers, and many, many other professionals can’t stay married.   You don’t have to be a “big-shot” to have to work long hours.

    @Mike, people who work frequently have to work more than 40 hours a week.  If you are lucky, you have a job that let’s you finish the surplus from home.  And you don’t have to be “high-flyin CEO” for that to be true. There is a lot of middle ground to be had, not to mention the fact that the less one partner works, the more the other one has to.   Gender aside, someone has to pay the bills and that requires more than a 35 hour week and doesn’t require that people be overly materialistic.

    Actually, the best argument for both people working at least 40 hours each is precisely so that no one is at home feeling neglected as someone else works long hours to pay the bills by him or herself.  If you’re in the OR performing surgery for 6 hours you won’t feel ignored if your spouse is trying to clock all of his billable hours for the month.   

    I think that as long as you don’t feel like there is a party going on that you aren’t a part of, someone else’s work schedule won’t bother you.  

  19. 20
    Sayanta

    Hey, maybe Mike’s French. 35 hour workweek for those Parisians- that’s why they always look so happy ;-p

  20. 21
    Helen

    To be blunt here:

    I think it’s perfectly feasible for two high-flying careerists to have a beautifully happy relationship together.  I’ve seen it enough times to know how frequent it is.

    Just one caveat: they shouldn’t have kids.  Or the kids should have left the roost.   

  21. 22
    Zann

    Agree with Helen. Two high-rollers without kids can make their relationship work, because their incomes allow them the luxuries of last-minute getaways and paying others to keep the home fires burning. But once you factor kids into that scenario, game over. I’m a feminist and was always a working mother, but I still think it’s unfair and selfish to have kids and expect them to work their lives around yours, competing for tiny bits of your time, attention, energy just so you can keep your prestigious, powerful, big-bucks career. Don’t want to sacrifice? Don’t have kids. Want to keep that powerful CEO position you worked so hard for? I don’t blame you, just don’t have kids.  On the other hand, I don’t think it’s healthy for either one of the couple to be a full-time stay-at-home, with or without kids. Adults need interaction with other adults on a regular basis or someone winds up either resentful or disrespected. 

    Frankly, I’m always surprised to still hear about these men who allegedly want their women to stay home while they battle the outside world & bring home the bacon. They must be living in the same place that unicorns do, because I have yet to meet one in my lifetime. Quite the opposite, in fact. My experience in relationships, including my marriage, have been with men who wanted/expected me to at least match their incomes (and often my income was higher) and yet STILL expected me to do the larger share of parenting, household upkeep, making sure the bills were paid, homework done, lunches made, even getting the car repaired. Not to mention their expectation that I stay fit, informed, fashionable, and never too tired to find them fascinating — in & out of bed. Seriously, I think the mythical I-Want-To-Provide male drew his last breath around 1980.  At the very latest.

    1. 22.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      @Zann. I’m an I-Want-To-Provide male. Wife and I both seem to be happy in our roles. So there.

  22. 23
    Steve

    @Evan #17 – thanks for bringing common sense into it.
    @K #1,  @Trenia #16 –  I don’t think the points in the original articles were so much about existing CEOs……there you are correct, they can afford help for outsourcing chores.   The issue is for people who have NOT climbed the corporate ladder YET.   Those people need spouses who will pitch in practical and emotional support ( often giving more without getting it back ).   Think of the person working two jobs to put a spouse through medical school.
    @Nicole #20, thanks for bringing what really happens into the thread :).  I was surprised to see you list engineering as the occupations of the husbands of women CEOs.   I’m not an engineer, I am a programmer.  I’ve been lucky enough to get jobs with stable hours, but that is not the norm for my field.  I guess engineers have it different.   Based on the culture of my field I wouldn’t have guessed that engineers would be emotionally supportive spouses for women climbing corporate ladders.  Maybe it is more of a situation where engineers who are men don’t demand the same amount of attention as women with ambitious husbands would want.  I’m guessing the engineers would be grateful to be left alone to do all the work and studying they want and have their wives not care as they are off doing their own thing.
    Having written all that and aside from the other issues, I couldn’t see getting involved with such a woman unless I knew the person before they started climbing the ladder.    I’ve stopped dating women once I saw they were workaholics and saw that my time with them would always be limited.
     
     

  23. 24
    Ann

    High fives to Sayanta and Nicole!

    When people talk about women working and the division of labor on the home front, they always talk about the value of the woman’s work in financial terms. How about women who love their work and wouldn’t for a moment ever consider giving it up, no matter what it paid?

    I love working. I just love it. It’s who I am. In my 20s I had two marriage proposals from guys who were keen on my getting pregnant right away. I lived with both of them and they could do nothing around the house. They completely ignored my professional work and credentials and were oblivious to my financial independence. I said NO. As time has gone on I’ve done extremely well and cannot imagine what kind of hell I’d be in had I given up my beloved career to take care of these boring guys (at the time everyone was saying that “boring” equals “good” when it comes to boyfriends). I would have gone crazy.  

    Just got my first housekeeper and I am so appreciative of the work she does. I am also glad that I can pay her for three hours of work and don’t have to support her financially, as I would a househusband. So, I vote for parity in encoupled relationships! Each person does what he/she loves to do and the rest of the jobs you outsource to people who love to do that kind of work and are happy to do it.

  24. 25
    Mike

    French.. hahaha. It is to laugh. Canadian actually, but not french-canadian.

    Think what you will, if you can pull it off go for it. Myself, i’ve seen one too many a marriage disintegrate for lack of quality time between two people. Or maybe we just have differing points of view on what kind of feelings constitute a loving relationship. Perhaps you can work 10 hours a day and be on your cell on weekends and still find time to do ‘relationship’ things.

    I love watching celebrities get married, spend weeks/months apart working on their own separate careers/clothing lines/media events and then wonder why they drifted apart or were cheated on. Fascinating stuff really.

    Marriages/relationships of convenience where you’re with a person just to fill out the status box on the voting registration form as being married, or applying for tax credits, happen all the time. I wouldn’t call any of these being real. How many male corporate ceo’s look like a dried up scrotum, yet have a really hot woman? think thats love? it would be reasonable to assume the reversal as well. No one wants to show up to the black tie affair without a significant other so they shack up based on status. High monied men want gorgeous women of high sexual value, that is what conveys status. Women want equally powerful, wealthy alpha men, not househusbands, because that is what conveys status for them. Hypergamous instincts prevail. Women don’t marry down. If they do, divorce is usually  on the horizon.

    So my initial remarks stand. If you think it can be done on the cheap, putting in minimal time because you’re so devoted to your career as a high flying ceo, then by all means try. Then try and justify the multiple affairs you have when you’re traveling to exotic locales in your private jet while hubbies at home ironing your bedsheets. I mean, how often have we heard of women who cheat on their men because they placed a higher priority on their career/job (ie. making money to support their lifestyle the woman appreciated) over spending time with her and making her feel needed, so she found it with someone else.

    For the record, I’m talking about the ones that require a huge amount of time to make the money, not those already swimming in it with the ability to delegate out time to underlings.

    Disagree, flame away. Doesn’t change my reality.

  25. 26
    Sayanta

    Ann-
     
    I’m curious- I don’t know how old you are, you talked about those men you met in your 20s- how do men your age react to your career and financial independence now?

  26. 27
    Margaret

    @ Ann, #25,

    You are one smart cookie!

  27. 28
    Helen

    Ann 25, it sounds as though you are genuinely happy with your choices, and I am delighted for you. Of course, in an ideal relationship, one would not have to give up the work one loves because of the spouse / SO.  But in reality, sometimes that is just how it works. Things become even more complicated if and when kids come into the picture.  Then one or the other, often both, have to make enormous sacrifices.  It is smart for you to question whether you want to make these kinds of sacrifices before you are smack in the middle of the situation and cannot turn back.

  28. 29
    Margaret

    I can’t help but think about the article I read just today in Vanity Fair about Margaret Thatcher.  Strong lady, yet deferred to her husband in many ways.  Respected the opinions and strength of men, yet leader of a world power.  Not sure how this all adds up.  No rhyme or reason, I always say.

  29. 30
    Nicole

    @Steve, I was an engineer for many years and perhaps outside of a competitive tech start-up, it’s a pretty comfortable life that pays well.
    So it’s a GREAT 9 to 5 career that has flex time, good wages, etc. and I worked with some men whose wives were much higher up the ladder than they were and this worked out well b/c they could deal with the logistics of kids and household chores for example.  I also saw the reverse.  

    It seems as people have mentioned, culturally, a woman with a high-powered husband is more likely to chuck work all together, and  man with a high powered wife is more likely to opt for a less demanding career than to be a househusband entirely, although some do, and as I said, I went to a school where a lot of people are very successful and some of my classmates (e.g. surgeons, execs, lawyers) are married to househusbands (or writers, artists, etc.)

    I did have one co-worker who had an interesting set-up.  She was kind of nutty to me in other ways but both she AND her husband were engineers in our company and they both worked part-time.  The husband eventually moved into academia but it was their way of balancing two kids, one of whom was sickly and both of whom they wanted to homeschool.

    The articles I’ve read and the people I know personally support the point that is frequently made on this blog.  People take it to extremes, but for example, two mid level managers don’t have super crazy taxing jobs and yet can be quite comfortable financially.  Ditto for two engineers, and in some less expensive locations, two teachers.  It’s that extreme, high level, high profile kind of person who needs a person who is perhaps willing to take a backseat and settle for a more average career I think.  Or you might have a couple where both people are very successful and aren’t that needy and it probably works out fine.

    I think that a lot of people who comment on these careers aren’t in them, and don’t have any firsthand experience with people who are in them, but you know, if your friends and/or family are all highly-educated then you see plenty of doctors, lawyers, execs, etc. who are part of successful, long-term marriages with people who are in similar fields. Some of them actually become “easier” when you are higher up b/c you can pass off the bad tasks and long hours to your underlings, or can negotiate certain things to let them be home more.   I do think that there is a point where the demands can become a problem but some of these jobs don’t become THAT crazy unless you are near the top ,and the culture of certain companies can make a HUGE difference too.   

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