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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  1. 31

    To respond to Sayanta, Margaret, Helen: I am in my 40s and have not been without a relationship in more than 20 years, even though I never married. My longest relationships was 7 years. Been with my BF for 3, though we’ve known each other since our early 30s. He’s in one of those complementary professions 🙂 and has no desire to marry or have kids.

    I don’t have kids, and if it came down to a choice between kids and career, it would be career. No question. I sat myself down, thought about it long and hard, and made this choice when I was 20, so it isn’t like the no-marriage-no-kids thing happened by default. That said, if the time/guy had been right I would have gotten married and had one child, max. The guy would have had to be an equal partner financially and on the homefront, and there weren’t many guys in my age range and none in my environment who could handle that arrangement. All of the guys I dated have pretty much ended up in marriages with the traditional division of labor, which would not have suited me at all, and no amount of passion for him was going to make me want to keep house and take care of kids for him, especially when I had/have so much talent elsewhere.  

    What’s maybe different for me is that my work has always felt like a calling (see Lady Gaga quote in #5), and I never felt that way about marriage/kids. That my work has been well received and has provided me with wealth and experiences that most people never get and that I never imagined back when I was 20 is only icing on the cake and an affirmation that I made the right choice for me

    Men think I’m great, and I think they’re great. In general, though, I don’t like people who have these traditional expectations of women and judgments of people who aren’t married or don’t have kids. If my BF and I were to break up I don’t think it would be hard for me to find another relationship. But we probably won’t break up–as you get older relationships tend to deepen, I find, and so partnership is more about sharing a life path than about hormones and procreating. It’s really nice. And my accomplishments and experiences fill up my life and keep growing–so no empty nest is in the offing and I can follow my calling till the day I die. 

    Not a bad deal, if you ask me.     

  2. 33

    Ann, I definitely agree  with you.  I would like to have had one child (max).  It didn’t happen, for various reasons.  I am not bitter.  I love my career and love that I can call my own shots.  I could not change if I wanted to.  My mother says that I came out of the womb independent. 

    I am 50, attractive and vibrant, but few choices with regard to consorts.  That’s ok.  I realize that I am the sum total of all the choices I have made in my life.  I married once, in my early 20s , for all the wrong reasons.  Divorced, with no animosity. 

    Just because you are kind, beautiful, nurturing and self-effacing does NOT mena every thi   

  3. 34

    I cut myself off on my last post.  Just because someone does everything right (male or female) does not mean everything will work out.

  4. 35
    Owen Marcus

    For a man it’s not so much what he’s doing, but why. If what he is doing is fitting his purpose – who he wants to be as man he’s good. I have known men where their passion and purpose was staying home with the kids. If his purpose not to stay at home – the relationship won’t work.

  5. 36

    [email protected]: I know. They never tell you that you can follow all the rules and still be unhappy. They also never tell you that you can do things your own way (buck tradition and what is supposed to make us happy–like marriage, kids–but which we suspect will not) and that everything will be fine. Or even great.

    Got a photo yesterday of my best friend growing up–all of us at her wedding, when we were all 19. She followed all the rules–virgin on her wedding day, beautiful, sweet, deferential, helpmate, all of it. Today, now that the kids have gone, she is very angry that her parents wouldn’t let her go to college (she had to work to pay for her wedding, they said), and she wouldn’t get married again if anything happened to her husband. I’ve heard other women who “followed the rules” say the same thing, and it always surprises me, the good-girl admission that marriage and kids wasn’t enough. 

    So, it’s a tricky time in the history of male/female relationships, where there are no guarantees that any one life choice is going to offer us security, prosperity, or satisfaction. All the more reason to listen to your own inner stirrings. 

    We all looked so young and so pretty in that photo. We were all very naive, too.  

  6. 37
    Saint Stephen

    @Ann (#38)
    No one insinuated marriage and kids was enough.
    You can have the combination of a satisfying career and a happy family life.
    Helen, being a typical example.
    It only takes a good family/work balance.
    Past tradition required marriage and kids to make women happy, But presently- women can have it all. Marriage, family, education, career etc.
    That’s a good evolution if you ask me.

  7. 38

    [email protected]: As Helen has pointed out, the other half of the equation is that men are being forced to change. They have to shoulder more responsibility for home and child care now and they don’t get to dominate because they make all the money. It’s a tough adjustment for a lot of men who saw their parents do it a different way.

  8. 39

    @ Ann # 38  It’s frustrating, indeed.  I know of a number of women in both the private and public sector who have done everything right, yet been left for a more nubile prospect.   And, I have known women who have any sort of problem, including alcoholism and bipolar disorder, who have men that stay through horrific events.

    I can cite Betty Broderick in La Jolla, CA.  Yes, the woman obviously had issues.  But, reportedledly, she was a virgin when married.  Good Catholic girl.  Upper class family.  Worked numerous jobs to put her husband through medical and law school.  Bore him 4 children while maintaining the facade of devoted, attractive wife.  Left for younger version of herself.  I don’t blame her for being pissed, though I never condone murder.

    But this is just  another version where being the “Good Wife”  does not necessarily turn out as you’d hoped/planned.


  9. 40

    @Margaret, your post again just echoes what I believe, which is that no matter what level career you aspire to, you need to have a career.

    Betty Broderick was facing literally being with little to nothing b/c she’d worked and put all resources into furthering her husband’s career znd education while neglecting her own.  I’m never clear on why so many women think that this is a good long term strategy, but maybe it’s a generational thing.  And b/c he was a well-connected lawyer, she wasn’t going to get much of a payout.

    Oh, and Betty’s case is a popular topic on crime shows.  She had 4 kids but good Catholic girl that she was, there were about 8 pregnancies, and they took a toll on her body and her looks.  She wears her body out having this man’s kids and he trades her in.  

    My mom, who is a teacher, had a co-worker who put her husband through medical school and within weeks of his graduation, he announced to her that he was leaving her, I think for one of his classmates.

    My mom just pointed out that you should NEVER work to put anyone through school except for yourself.  She should have let her husband borrow the money just like most people do.  Instead, he got to graduate debt-free so he could start a life with someone else.   There is no legal way for her to get reimbursed for his tuition.  If she’d let him borrow the money, then had they stayed married, she could have assisted in paying it off.  But instead, she probably got left feeling really scammed and a whole lot poorer. 

    You don’t have to be a CEO, you don’t need to be a partner in a law firm, but I think that if you do nothing and have no way of earning a dime,  you are kind of silly.   

    I think that as much as people say that pre-nupes aren’t romantic (who gives a fig), if you are investing lots of money or time into furthering someone’s career while neglecting your own, you’d better get it in writing what you’ll get should that marriage dissolve.  I’d do the same myself if I was with a less successful partner who had to give up opportunities to support my ambitions.  It’s only fair. 

  10. 41

    Jake quit his job in May to start his own business and work from home, however I will admit that it’s been a REAL struggle to get him to chip in with the chores.  When he was working 80-90 hours a week I just did everything since I not only made less than half what he did but also only worked 40 hours/week.  He got so spoiled that I swear he doesn’t even NOTICE when things need to get done.  He’s getting better but it’s taking a lot of time and patience on my part to “train” him.

    However, we keep our finances totally separate – all bills are divided down the middle (though rent is proportional to income, we did split it while he was starting his business but now he has enough data to recalculate the percentage which we will do starting in January – he still makes more money than I do so this will be good for me).  He also pays when we go out – before because he made so much more than me and now because he enjoys getting out of the house and enjoys my company, and that’s the only way I can afford it.  He would LOVE it if I made more than him, though.

  11. 42
    Lynn Williams

    This reminds me of the article I recently read about how generosity is key to relationships that last. I think it was Psychology Today. Even the little things (like the laundry) can be a big factor in whether a relationship works or fails. Particularly, for people with high power jobs, the stakes are higher and doing these little things for one another is even more essential.

  12. 43

    Im financially well off, 46 and i can not stand men who would stay home!! Its so unattractive! I dated a casting director n NYC a couple years ago and he came and stayed for 3 months i was so turned off by it! And i became the man n relationship. He even thought he was gonna get a credit card in his name for his bday! Yuck! Dont care what a woman says, no way we wver wanna take care of a man . Even if we are wealthier . Ewww everytime i think if that loser i get ill .

  13. 44

    I’m a little astounded by some of these remarks regarding this ‘role-reversal’ in this this age of ours. Degrading the traditional ‘woman’s’ role of maintaining a post-post modern household as being something a ‘man’ couldn’t consider, or invoking insurmountable ‘man-pride’, or trifling the absolute necessity of having a well-managed home life to BE successful – especially if one a wants a live-in life partner, is simply akin to the closed, puritanical thinking that educated and enlightened people have fought since the dawning of public education. For a familial unit to make such a decision demonstrates foresight and strategic thinking. Why would a successful professional woman agree to such an arrangement? Do we think she’s stupid? What kind of a partner would such a woman choose for this type of arrangement? A sloth-like freeloader? Would you want to hire ‘help’ – again in this age of ours – and let strangers into your most personal home life, to quit and know all about you? What kind of man finds his identity threatened by whatever duties him and his partner decide are for the good of their family? Do what works the best for you. You’re the one that lives with the results.

  14. 45
    Erik T

    ugghhhhh…all these feminists trying to be men 

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