Anyone in a relationship where both are pursuing a career knows all too well the tensions of adjusting to each other’s work priorities. Even before Covid-19, being a dual-career couple involved a mutual balance between work and family life.
Then the pandemic hit. The early results have been devastating for working women, especially those with children. Surveys by consultancy firm McKinsey found that one in four women with children under 10 were considering leaving the workforce, compared to one in eight men. In the United States, 1.7 million women lost or left their jobs compared to 1.3 million men.
Now, as the pandemic recedes, new opportunities and pitfalls for dual career couples are emerging.
Employers increasingly say they are unable to find the skills they need. This puts workers in a strong position to demand more flexibility on everything from parental leave to flexible start times and remote work. And, for those whose jobs require relocation on a regular basis, the ability to work remotely opens up new options for both partners.
Anyone who’s ever argued with a partner over who covers a childcare emergency knows how much flexibility can be a game changer. I still cringe when I think of the time the school nurse called me to tell me my son had chickenpox. My reaction — “but I have a crucial interview and her dad is in a meeting” — wouldn’t have earned me a parenting award.
The increased acceptance of working from home should alleviate some of these stresses for dual-career couples — at least those in fields where remote working is possible. But there are two key caveats: responsibilities must be distributed in a way that does not unfairly damage a partner’s career; and flexibility cannot become a source of additional stress.
Some employers are already concerned that hybrid working will exacerbate gender inequalities as more men return to the office while women work from home and take on more household responsibilities, often to reduce childcare costs. .
” What are [couples] going to do with hybridity? asks Jennifer Petriglieri, associate professor at Insead business school, who studies career paths and is herself a dual-career couple. “Are they going to use it to give slack to the system or are they going to use it to fill their schedules even more? I’m afraid couples are setting themselves a trap.
The saving grace could be that other workplace trend: substantial, even equal, time off for the non-birthing parent. This can apply to fathers, adoptive parents and lesbian couples. Pioneers such as UK insurer Aviva, which started offering equal parental leave in 2017, now have plenty of company. As of last year, 90 countries offered statutory paid paternity leave and 38% of employers offered paid leave above the legal minimum.
Paternity leave of any length has been associated with increased male participation in child rearing. Many executives I talk to believe shared time off will help reduce the penalty historically paid by women taking time off to care for children — for two reasons. Splitting the impact on two careers should reduce the effect on each of them; and, if all parents take leave, employers will be less likely to hesitate to hire or promote women specifically.
Studies from European countries where multi-month paternity leave has been common for some time show additional benefits. Dads who spend at least two months at home with their children then devote more time to household and other chores.
This is great news for household fairness, cleanliness and, studies show, family stability. US statistics show a link between paternity leave and lower divorce rates. And an otherwise depressing recent Swedish study – which found that promotion to a higher position significantly increases a woman’s chances of divorce – also determined that marriages were more likely to survive when factors such as the similarity of marriage. age and taking a similar amount of parental leave were at stake.
As Gen X Americans, my husband and I had children too soon to benefit from the new corporate enthusiasm for parental leave and flexible working. But I like to think my mandatory weekend shifts, which often left him solely responsible for the kids, helped create an equally positive dynamic.
Given that we’ve been trying to climb the corporate ladder in tandem for decades, I have to hope so.