Home and work: Balance or convergence?

Transplanting biz strategies into the home
The gender split of household duties and child care as well as a general work/ life balance, is one of the most talked about issues in any group of working women whether on-line or IRL. In a women’s online professional forum I have recently joined as a mentor, the issue is debated intensely, although with few solutions offered. Complaints abound: the lack of workplace flexibility, partner inflexibility, school runs, orthodontists appointments, parent teacher conferences, nanny, crèche and au pair issues

Earlier this year, I carried out a survey of Gen Y women and 54% indicated that they expected their partners to be fully engaged in household management and childcare, so with older generations letting go of the Superwoman myth, things should be improving. However currently many women are still assuming a greater share of domestic and childcare responsibilities.

Non – alpha males
Lucy Kellaway in an article in the FT.com Breaking the glass ceiling at home carried out an analysis of the partners of the top 50 Women in World Business. and decided that these women successful were in relationships with non-alpha males. “The biggest reason that alpha women don’t become CEOs is that they have made the common, yet fatal, error of marrying an alpha man” These non alpha males are seemingly happy to take a back seat and let their partner’s careers take priority.

I think however we need to bring some financial perspective into this discussion. Ms Rosenfeld’s husband, may have given up his professional activity, but was it really to pick up a dish cloth or pair up the socks? With Ms Rosenfeld’s compensation package according to Forbes estimated to be at $26m I somewhat doubt it.

Genetic hardwiring
Lucy Kellaway’s theory, interesting though it is, also flies in the face of anthropological theories fielded by psychologists who tell us that women are genetically programmed to seek out the males who will help them produce the strongest children. In organisations, these men are commonly (but not always I agree) found near the top of the pyramid, profession or chosen field of activity. So it would suggest that ambitious women would tend to seek out like-minded men.

So how does the average non salary millionaire couple strike up the ideal balance, so that both can achieve their career goals? As the workplace becomes more flexible with dress down Friday’s, remote working, and with the possibility of employees being professionally contactable any time and anywhere, how are some couples and single parents dealing with this?

I spoke to a number of different women and it seemed that many were applying business techniques in the home. I heard the words procedure manuals, outsourcing, monthly meetings, responsibility allocation, forward planning.

Personal stories
Julia a senior business consultant told me ” I approached it almost in a business change management way. During my maternity leave , I identified key tasks, drew up ” job profiles ” for our domestic management, splitting chores and responsibilities according to our strengths and capabilities and what was logistically possible. We agreed to allocate a budget for a weekly cleaning company, because neither of us want to spend our very little free time doing the ironing. We decided that in the short-term to take the financial hit to make life easier and it was a small penalty to pay for both of us staying on our career paths“.

It was one of my greatest professional challenges combining work and home” Sarah now a CFO with an international pharmaceutical company ” the early years were very stressful. I had a number of au pairs and nanny’s which basically ate up my whole salary. At the time my husband wanted me to give up work and stay at home. Happily I didn’t because we are now divorced! As a single parent I allocate domestic responsibilities between my children. We all have the equivalent of job descriptions and ad hoc project management duties! I am lucky I can employ domestic support – a man before you ask!

Sally’s approach is much more indirect ” I cultivated some weaknesses. I made a mess of the laundry early in our relationship and it’s not a job that I’m now expected to do. I designed a procedure manual and made sure all the recipes we use are in there. Now my son aged 13 has his own copy and is quite a competent cook. I use online shopping and home delivery for almost everything and even outsource the ironing. I’m one of those crazy people who goes to the supermarket at midnight! “

Melissa and her partner have a monthly domestic meeting in the same way as they might in an office. “We check how we are doing. Manage our budget, make plans and allocate responsibilities. Now the kids are older they also join in for the last part. The minute we let the formal structure slide – chaos descends in no time! “

So as the gender split of domestic responsibilities becomes a workplace issue, some women are making a corporate style stamp on their home management. But is this a successful attempt to find balance or a destructive convergence as Stephen Covey suggests in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families,Home life has become more like an efficiently run but joyless workplace , while the actual workplace with its emphasis on empowerment and teamwork, is more like a family

What do you think?

15 responses to “Home and work: Balance or convergence?

  1. Awesome article Dorothy – finally some practical tips for the home part of the work-life juggle… well done!

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  3. Dorothy – Thank you for once again challenging assumptions and in this case for sharing stories that put a smile on my face. I experience the supermarket as a modern day hunting ground and that task goes to the man of the house. When I do set foot, it is often late night on weekends, with the others who tend to talk to themselves (out loud) while shopping.

    In our home, we’ve each done our own laundry for many years. Our son has also been cooking and ironing since age 12. He is all the better for it, and I smiled with pride on the inside when a friend told me about a midnight phone call from her son during his first week in college asking for instructions on running the washing machine.

    Along the way I’ve picked up lots of good tips from other Moms and Dads. Here’s one I’d like to pass along from a client who travels a great deal.
    She has given her two young children a map they can write on and push pins into. Before leaving for a trip she writes the names of the places she is visiting. While she travels, they use the map to track her journey, stay connected and learn a bit of geography along the way.

    • Thanks Anne for sharing that great idea. Work life balance is the perennial chestnut for working mothers. Not sure that working fathers discuss it to the same degree but happy to stand corrected.

      If anyone has any other ideas they’d like to share -please let me know!

  4. Dorothy,

    Another super post. I think that work and life can converge, or for me, I like to use the ‘work-life-harmony’ approach. The reality is, there are moments, days and even sometimes weeks where our lives feel in discord, but aspiring to unity of the two is an ongoing goal. We are committed to find joy in our day to day, and no matter how hard it may seem at times, we part the waters when we find the weight of the world crushing us.

    This means being able to realize work and life do not always balance, sometimes things get a little messy and cluttered, but do the best you can and then surrender a bit to the chaos so at the end of the day you can snuggle up with each other and a hot cup of cocoa.

    That said, I can certainly see how “words procedure manuals, outsourcing, monthly meetings, responsibility allocation, forward planning” have woven their way into people’s vocabulary on this issue. Rob and I do ‘schedule time’ to address best practices to manage our lives, and it helps! Being better organized, taking accountability for our individual roles in making sure our home life is as peaceful and feng shui as possible, is important.

    For example, he feels it is his charge to shovel the snow from the driveway in the winter; likewise, I’m more than willing to prep a tasty, warm meal for him, not only as a reward for his efforts, but because I want to. Moreover, we both pitch in to do laundry, folding, cleaning, etc. All the boring stuff, but has to be done! It’s not a his/her duty, but a ‘who’s available’ to tackle decision.

    Thanks for another smart post!

    Jacqui

  5. I would have loved a job share when I was first married but in my day that didn’t happen. Does this really only work fully with two highly paid executive types rather than with men and women in the workplace? What happens if the man leaves for work at 7.30 am and arrives home at 7.30 pm- is he still expected to do the laundry etc.? especially if his wife has a 9 to 5 job?

    • Hi Mum! Thanks for your comment! With your permission I am disclosing your age – a fabulous 86. Fantastic that you are so internet savvy. I am sooo proud of you!

      You were raised in different times, with different expectations and as with every partnership I think the point is that there should be an agreement how chores are split and households run, rather than an assumption that women will assume domestic responsibility. Some women now use business principles to be more effective.

      You worked full time and ran a family of 4 kids, with no domestic support , in a time when there were far fewer women in the workplace. In fact they were actively discouraged from doing so, with salaries that were substantially lower than their male counterparts. In a different era with your talent, organisation skills and energy, you would have been C level potential.

      Today women have different qualifactions and expectations , but there is no doubt that the legacy that women such as yourself have left is huge. You were the pioneers. Without even knowing it you paved they way for future generations of women to expect and demand more.

      I think it’s important for everyone to understand the historical context and the pace of all these changes

  6. Time time time our never ending quest for time and energy.

    With my husband we had a 25 years two career household with up and downs. My best solution was to have a middle age cleaning lady in the afternoon everyday.

    She would clean, wash, iron and best of all cook in the last hour. She cooked her own type of food and she had her own budget for this. I have to say that her way of cooking was more economical that mine because she had a smaller budget for her own family. It was healthy and made from fresh veg. and slow cooking meats.

    I paid this lady above the market place because she was worth it. Because she was the in the afternoon she was a presence when my daughter would come home from school. She was our guardian angel for ten years. Six years ago I stopped working and she has now her small hotel in Montenegro, her country.

    I am not saying it is easy for everybody to get this type of help. But with the all the management experience women have today at work, I see little of this being used in the home environment other than making job descriptions for kids and husbands.

    What a mother and wife need at home is a surrogate of herself, and this was the solution I took to solve my problem.

    • Hi Silvanna – thanks for your comment. It’s obvious that there are so many options for managing home and work. My Mum employed her managerial skills (although they didn’t have a name back in the 60s) others found surragates. Today I am seeing a shift and women are increasingly looking for a more equal split with their partners. Family life is definitely becoming a workplace issue.

  7. Dorothy, I love your word “convergence” to describe our work/family life.

    I believe the trend to work from home will continue to grow in leaps and bounds and that will lend itself to fully sharing all domestic tasks as well as work-related issues.

    So working from home will create a more homogeneous lifestyle with both partners contributing equally to all roles in a much more balanced format.

  8. Pingback: Why couples need congruent not dual career strategies | Dorothy Dalton

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