I recently had a call asking me if I did couples coaching and family planning. I told the gentlemen he had the wrong number. The phone rang again. It was the same chap. No he insisted. Are you the Dorothy Dalton who does career transition coaching and wrote Children: A Corporate inconvenience and The Great Divide: Planned Parenthood and Corporate Planning?
Why ..? I asked somewhat cautiously.
“Because I would like some professional input on how to create a strategy for my career, knowing that my partner and I intend to have children and want to be involved with our families, but we are both ambitious professionally. Neither of us want the pressure of being the sole income earner. What advice would you give? Is it possible do you think to have a couple’s career strategy?”
This was actually a first for me!
Nathan is just 30. He has have been with his partner Holly (28), for 8 years and they are intending to marry in 2015. They both have successful early career track records in their chosen fields – Law and Consulting. Although neither consider themselves to be high-fliers, both aim for senior management positions by their early 40s. Holly stated early on that she is not a “bra burner”! Both are well paid and it was clear that salary is important to them both, in terms of status and the opportunities a high dual income can offer. They have a comfortable life style but generally work 50+ hours per week. They are hoping to buy a flat in desirable post code in Central London, without parental help, Nathan was quick to point out. Both would like private education for their kids and second home ownership, somewhere warm, is part of a mid-term dream. Neither want to be the sole main wage earners or child carer. With the cost of raising a child to 18 rising almost annually, they anticipated they would need two healthy salaries throughout their working lives to meet their goals.
Here we have the archetypal career couple challenge, but with a modern approach of joint forward planning, rather than leaving anything to chance. Previous generations simply suggested that women strive “to have it all” and we know how well that worked don’t we? Is this the new way forward for today’s young couples?
I suggested they could factor in the following:
- Ongoing strategy: It’s impossible to start a joint career strategy in 2012 and just leave it to take care of itself. It has to be an ongoing part of their joint long term goal setting process. Sheryl Sandberg said that choice of partner is one of the most significant decisions we make in a lifetime. Yet 50% of modern marriages end in divorce. I suggested that Nathan and Holly make a conscious decision to invest and check regularly that they remain on the same page and continue to share the same goals. There can be a tendency for all of us, especially when busy or stressed to simply drift.
- Audit of current companies. Can their existing organisations offer what they are looking for or should they move for optimal longer term career progression in line with their goals? What are their parental leave policies for example? Holly’s manager had been told when she announced her pregnancy that having a baby was not one of her KPIs and was already starting to be side-lined. Holly believed she would need to move sooner rather than later to build up her career and reputation in a new organisation.
- Target future companies. Look for organisations with strong and supportive parenting policies as well as an active commitment to a balanced work/life culture, which both could optimise, without being penalised. This would be especially important to Nathan. The reality is many companies discourage men from taking paternity leave in practise. Networking in these organisations to establish if these policies are really implemented, rather than lip-service clauses in the company handbook, would be helpful.
- Senior women: Target companies with women already at a senior level, who have a reputation for being supportive of junior women. Holly does not want to be a trail blazer.
- Where to live: Is the proposed property purchase a transition purchase or should they be looking at addresses near to preferred schools, with perhaps accommodation for a nanny and with easy access for family support?
- Fertility back-up plan: I have known many couples make a plan to start a family, but nature doesn’t always oblige. Just because they intend to have their children when they are 36-42, doesn’t mean to say it will happen. This age range is associated with reduced fertility. Oocyte cryopreservation (egg freezing) and elective sperm freezing would be worth researching.
- Financial planning : Seek professional financial advice early on. Create financial reserves.
- Plan for the unexpected. Although it’s great to have a joint life and career strategy, all laid out and agreed and I do think this type of consultation will become increasingly common, sometimes s?*t just happens. It’s not on the plan and we can’t do anything about it. People get sick, accidents happen and the unexpected hits us sideways. The skills to cope with these off-plan challenges will be paramount and not using them could mean that they become like under utilized muscles, without exercise they are not effective when called on.
- Drop the plan if it stops working. The plan is not the end in itself and panic is not the best fall back position. Give advance permission to create contingency plans!
What advice would you give to couples to create a joint career strategy? Is this the new way forward for today’s young couples?