I had dinner with a couple of girlfriends last week, both of whom were HBS alums, and in town attending the HBS Women’s Conference to commemorate 50 years of women at HBS. The conversation turned towards the realities of being a female MBA alum and what we expect (and the world expects) our lives to look like holistically after attaining this higher education.
Probably more than any other masters degree, female MBAs are expected to have successful families AND business careers with high earning potential. Those who decide to forego career advancement or !gasp! become a housewife post MBA are often looked at with condescension and confusion. “Why did you spend $150k to get an MBA when you’re just going to be a stay at home mom? Oh…you were just there looking for a husband…” (in that non-judgemental, but uber judgemental tone you learn so well in school)
As MBA women, we’re supposed to be able to do it ALL – not give up one thing for the other (which totally isn’t fair, as explained extremely well in this article in the Daily Beast). And “do it all” traditionally means have a successful family and a successful career.
HBS released study findings just in time for the women’s conference this week (featuring Sheryl Sandberg and other prominent successful women), where they asked why women weren’t moving up faster in the workplace. No surprise that the #1 reason is ‘the acknowledgment that family is more important to them than their careers’. #2? “taking leave or reducing hours” – arguably to be with family and kids more.
But before getting to the children, you have to find a partner. And given most women want someone who ‘matches’ them (in earning potential, education, lifestyle expectations etc.), that’s not so easy. Today women earn 60 percent of all master’s degrees and more than half of all doctoral and professional degrees. Science and Engineering fields notwithstanding, there are more women with masters than men. Which brings me to the conversation I had last night.
My very smart and ambitious Harvard MBA female friend wants kids. She knows she has a window. And she wants her kids to be raised by a parent, not a full-time nanny. But she also wants to rise quickly in her career and climb the ladder to a C-level position. Given the statistics and reality of the above, she knows that it will be hard to find someone ‘on her level’, even without the laundry list of non-tangible things she wants.
So her non-conventional solution to family and career? A house husband. Similar to the house-wife that many successful men marry who are not unintelligent, but also not jockeying for priority in life choices based on their ambition, he would take care of the kids, and be willing to move where she needed to go to continue to rise in her career (be it a different city or a different continent). He would take care of her emotionally and physically and be a good father. He wouldn’t need to work, or bring in a major share of income – that’s not what she needs.
Now, she doesn’t want someone effeminate or emasculated. She wants a strong, secure, confident real man – just not necessarily a breadwinner. She wants someone to support her – much like many women have supported their men in other single income families in the past. Run the household, make the meals, raise the kids and be a kind ear when work gets crazy. Not insignificant or simple tasks – but not traditionally male ones either.
My initial reaction was complete disbelief – “you’d never respect him, you’d cheat or he’d cheat because you wouldn’t see him as a man. He’s got to be at least CLOSE to your level of earning potential, where are you ever going to find a guy who’s OKAY with being a house husband and putting your career completely first that would be ‘manly’ enough for you?”
**Judge me here if you must, but despite being relatively liberal, I have to admit I still have a base level of old school thinking about what makes a man feel like a man (namely being a provider)**
But…as I continue to read multiple articles and talk with some powerful women who ARE getting it done, who have the families, and are kicking ass in the corporate world, it seems like many of them attribute that ability to ‘an amazing husband who’s flexible and understanding and picks up a lot of slack”.
AND, for whatever it’s worth, I know multiple MBA men who (kind of jokingly) say they’d love to be a ‘kept man’.
So what do you think? Can the house-husband work? Is it naïve to think it’s sustainable and it’s just a oversimplified unrealistic solution?
Or if we’re truly honest, is that what many career-driven MBA women need and just don’t want to admit to for fear of social repercussions and patronizing comments/attitudes about ‘settling’?