Mr & Mrs Wife

The men be­hind our cor­po­rate su­per­women

The Australian - The Deal - - Front Page - Story by: DEIRDRE MACKEN Pho­to­graph by: NICK CUB­BIN

SOME call it “the dirty lit­tle se­cret” of suc­cess­ful women, but it’s no se­cret when Aus­tralia’s most pow­er­ful women get to­gether to talk about work, life, pol­i­tics and, inevitably, chil­dren.

“I meet reg­u­larly with a wide group of CEO women friends and in al­most ev­ery case the woman is the pri­mary bread­win­ner and the hus­band ei­ther stays at home or does part-time work,” says TFE Ho­tels chief ex­ec­u­tive Rachel Arga­man.

“I see a great deal of di­ver­sity in the ar­range­ments that other suc­cess­ful women make at home – some have part­ners who work, some have hus­bands run­ning own busi­nesses and, yes, quite a few have part­ners who stay at home with the fam­ily,” says Pip Mar­low, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Mi­crosoft Aus­tralia.

“If I think of my friends in se­nior ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions, most have hus­bands who’ve stepped back from work. In fact, it’s hard to think of those whose hus­bands have high-pow­ered po­si­tions,” says di­rec­tor and for­mer Best & Less boss, Holly Kramer.

The per­son who called it a dirty lit­tle se­cret is Anne-Marie Slaugh­ter, the Prince­ton Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who left a high­pow­ered job in Wash­ing­ton and then ex­plained why in a 2012

At­lantic es­say, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All. A few months ago, in a fol­low-up book, called Un­fin­ished

Busi­ness, she wrote that “the dirty lit­tle se­cret that women lead­ers who come to­gether in places like For­tune mag­a­zine’s Most Pow­er­ful Women Sum­mit don’t talk about [is] the ne­ces­sity of a pri­mary care­giver spouse”.

Suc­cess­ful women have al­ways had to an­swer the ques­tion – how do you do it? More are now pre­pared to ad­mit that they’re not su­per­women, they’re not pre­pared to do it all them­selves. They have help, a lot of help and, as they dis­cuss pub­licly how they do it, other women can bet­ter gauge the cost of hav­ing the top job. Some CEOs even ad­mit they have a wife. They don’t use that word. Sup­port­ive part­ner, lead par­ent, Mr Mom, stay-ath­ome dad, wing­man and pri­mary care giver are the ex­pres­sions they pre­fer. But the out­come is the same; many chief ex­ec­u­tive women are find­ing the only way to cope is to have a part­ner who runs the home front.

“Re­mem­ber when ev­ery­one used to say that be­hind ev­ery suc­cess­ful man is a wife? Well, it turns out it’s true, suc­cess­ful women also need a wife,” says Kramer, who is now on the board of Aus­tralia Post, AMP, Chan­nel 9 and, soon, Wool­worths. Kramer and her hus­band, Mal­colm Noad, em­ployed a live-in nanny when their daugh­ter Jesse was a baby while Noad ran a rugby league club and Kramer held a se­nior po­si­tion at Tel­stra. By the time Kramer was ap­pointed to run Best & Less, her hus­band was ready for re­tire­ment – and full-time home du­ties.

“He’d had a suc­cess­ful ca­reer and was ready to step back – it’s one of the ad­van­tages of mar­ry­ing an old guy,” she quips.

Kramer is re­laxed about say­ing that her daugh­ter had three par­ents and that she and Noad were in a fi­nan­cial po­si­tion to af­ford top care when their daugh­ter was young.

“Peo­ple ask me how do you do it and I say don’t ask me, ask those who can’t af­ford to have the sort of sup­port we got. We had great sup­port when Jesse was young and it suited us for Mal­colm to step back when he did and I see many other suc­cess­ful women come to that con­clu­sion too.”

When The Deal asked sev­eral fe­male CEOs to de­scribe their do­mes­tic ar­range­ments, we ex­pected to hear tales of woe, feats of jug­gling and lots of staff, es­pe­cially since it was dis­closed that the Face­book COO and au­thor of Lean In, Sh­eryl Sand­berg, has a ret­inue of nan­nies and house­keep­ers. In­stead, we found that more women chiefs are stum­bling into an old stereo­type, where one part­ner steps back to sup­port the other’s ca­reer.

Mar­low says the de­ci­sion she and her part­ner took hap­pened or­gan­i­cally: “I hadn’t thought that much about what I’d do if I got this po­si­tion but when Richard’s job was re­lo­cated to Sin­ga­pore when the girls were in pri­mary school, we just came to that de­ci­sion.”

When Mar­low was ap­pointed boss five years ago, she and Richard had full-time jobs at Mi­crosoft and they man­aged “thanks to tech­nol­ogy, a long-term nanny, timeta­bles and lots of or­gan­is­ing”. Her hus­band’s job re­lo­ca­tion changed ev­ery­thing.

“He takes the pri­mary role at home. He loves to cook and he takes the kids to and from school but I do things too. I was class mother this year and I even did tuck­shop for a day be­cause [daugh­ter] Lucy said it was re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant to her.”

With two daugh­ters in early sec­ondary years, Mar­low has found that par­ent­ing doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily get eas­ier as chil­dren grow older — it gets more com­plex and, if any­thing, more de­mand­ing of par­ents’ at­ten­tion and time.

“It’s one thing to give food, shel­ter and car rides when kids are young but it’s so im­por­tant in those for­ma­tive teenage years to have lots of con­ver­sa­tions, tough con­ver­sa­tions some­times, and to work as a part­ner­ship. The teenage years are in many ways more im­por­tant.”

Hav­ing ar­rived at a so­lu­tion by hap­pen­stance, Mar­low is phleg­matic about plans for the fu­ture.

“It will con­tinue to evolve as we fig­ure out what works for us as a fam­ily and we’ll ask not just what I need but what Richard needs and the girls. At dif­fer­ent times, peo­ple need to lean in and at other times lean back. But it’s im­por­tant not to be de­fined by some­one else’s la­bel. Richard has per­sonal goals. He trains for triathlons. It’s not all about how he sup­ports me.”

Arga­man, with three chil­dren aged seven to 20, has had lots of sup­port through the years with two long-term nan­nies and a sup­port­ive mother-in-law but it was when she took on the top job at TFE that she faced her big­gest test.

“I was 42 when I was made CEO and by the time the 100-day meet­ing came around I had to tell them I was preg­nant,” she says. “For­tu­nately it wasn’t an is­sue for them. Busi­ness is built on re­la­tion­ships and peo­ple just get it when you say we have to meet at a cafe near my home or I have to feed my baby or I’ll have to phone into a board meet­ing.”

She wasn’t al­ways so com­fort­able with busi­ness col­leagues.

“I re­mem­ber when my son was home sick and I had to make a busi­ness call with Mark in my arms and at one stage dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, he vom­ited and I kept talk­ing. It was ter­ri­ble. What was I think­ing?”

Rachel’s hus­band, Michael, is still work­ing full-time with the TFE group but he is the one who runs the do­mes­tic di­ary.

“He trav­els less in his role. He does all the cook­ing. He does the wash­ing and he’s very much there for the chil­dren. He holds down two jobs – at work and at home – I only do one. And he does so much of the par­ent­ing be­cause I have to travel so much.”

The idea that more men – and of­ten suc­cess­ful men – are tak­ing the role of lead par­ent at home has be­come a hot is­sue in the US since Slaugh­ter’s book and the re­cent ar­ti­cle by her hus­band, An­drew Mo­ravc­sik, where he ad­mit­ted that he was the lead par­ent in their home.

Mo­ravc­sik, who is also a pro­fes­sor at Prince­ton, said: “To this day, I am listed first on emer­gency forms; I am the par­ent who drops ev­ery­thing in the event of a cri­sis.”

Sim­i­lar sto­ries have been told by Carly Fio­r­ina, for­mer HP CEO and pres­i­den­tial hope­ful, whose hus­band Frank re­tired from a top job at the age of 48 to sup­port her ca­reer. It’s also told by Janet Yellen, the US Fed­eral Re­serve head, whose No­bel prize-win­ning hus­band Ge­orge Akerlof stepped back from his ca­reer to take on full-on father­ing.

“If you counted up how many hours each of us logged, he cer­tainly gets more than 50 per cent,” Yellen said re­cently.

Coca-Cola Amatil chief ex­ec­u­tive Ali­son Watkins has paid trib­ute to her hus­band, who stepped back from his work in in­vest­ment bank­ing af­ter the birth of their fourth child in 2001. When in­ter­viewed for th­ese pages last year, she again cred­ited her hus­band Rod for tak­ing on the car­ing role in the fam­ily and added that “women will only be able to do more in­side or­gan­i­sa­tions when they are not do­ing ev­ery­thing in­side the home as well”.

But while CEO clubs buzz with tales of hus­bands lean­ing back, the sta­tis­tics don’t sup­port the anec­dotes yet. In Aus­tralia, only 3 per cent of fam­i­lies have a mother who works full-time and a father who is ei­ther at home or work­ing part-time. And when au­thor, Annabel Crabb, re­searched her book, The

Wife Drought, she found only two out of 31 CEO women had hus­bands tak­ing the lead at home.

The phe­nom­e­non also sur­prises for­mer women CEOs. Di­rec­tor Belinda Hutchin­son ad­mits she finds it “amaz­ing” and reels off sto­ries about women ex­ec­u­tives and politi­cians whose hus­bands have stepped back from their ca­reers.

“When I went back to work, I had to get a live-in nanny but we didn’t have ma­ter­nity leave and my hus­band’s view was – you look af­ter the baby be­cause I’ve got to go to work. He ’d started his own busi­ness and had a lot of in­ter­na­tional travel so we didn’t have much choice.”

Louise Her­ron, CEO of the Syd­ney Opera House, says: “It’s not just CEOs but women in big jobs [who are hand­ing pri­mary care roles to part­ners]. I think it’s pretty re­cent. I’ve only be­come con­scious of it in the past five years but it’s ob­vi­ously gain­ing so­cial ac­cept­abil­ity.”

Her­ron, how­ever, has her mother Isabel to thank for help­ing her bal­ance ca­reer and the rais­ing of two sons, now 22 and 25 years old. “I never had to be at the pick-up at 6.01pm,” she says. For the first 10 years of her boys’ lives, her mother was ei­ther liv­ing with them or nearby, some­thing Her­ron says was cru­cial, es­pe­cially af­ter her first mar­riage broke down when she was a part­ner at Min­ter El­li­son.

“I took 10 weeks off with Dou­gal but I breast­fed both boys un­til they were one so I re­mem­ber do­ing what I called the milk run for quite a while. I’d go to work late or go home early so I could con­tinue to breast­feed.”

Her­ron says hav­ing that sup­port, “is not just great for the mother, it’s great for the chil­dren. They have main­tained a very close re­la­tion­ship with her and I don’t feel I’ve missed out on any key ex­pe­ri­ence.” (Ex­cept, she adds, the first tri­umph in the potty).

Wendy McCarthy, who raised three chil­dren when she was head of Fam­ily Plan­ning and deputy chair of the ABC, ques­tions whether gen­der stereo­types are sim­ply be­ing re­versed rather than erased.

“Why would you sub­sti­tute one stereo­type for an­other? I think that’s zero progress re­ally. I do re­spect men who are not afraid to make those choices but I al­ways felt that as a fam­ily it’s im­por­tant to get ev­ery­one to share roles.”

McCarthy points out that her gen­er­a­tion “didn’t work as hard or with the elec­tronic ex­po­sure that women have to­day. We also had some­thing called work­ing hours.”

Ann Sherry, who has held a cou­ple of CEO po­si­tions and is now head of Car­ni­val Aus­tralia, says she too knows more se­nior women with part­ners at home but adds: “CEO pay is much bet­ter than it was in the 80s or 90s and women are earn­ing good money at ear­lier ages, when they’re likely to have kids at home. So, some of this might be de­mo­graph­ics.”

Sherry says that she and her hus­band coped with home help and joint ef­forts but when she was ap­pointed CEO of West­pac New Zealand in 2002, “Michael stepped back to run a small busi­ness and his step­ping out of a big cor­po­rate role did give us more flex­i­bil­ity”.

The trend of flex­ing in and out of top jobs no doubt owes some­thing to change in the work­place, the grad­ual rise of women (17 per cent of Aus­tralian CEOs are women) but also the at­ti­tude of new gen­er­a­tions, who con­sis­tently rate flex­i­bil­ity, con­stant learn­ing and life­style con­sid­er­a­tions in their job choices. There has also been a rewrit­ing of the mar­riage con­tract and a grow­ing recog­ni­tion of the car­ing con­tract. But if there’s more shar­ing to be done in the home, there might have to be a rewrit­ing of the cor­po­rate con­tract so that “wife” is not part of the pack­age for a CEO.

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