Harper's Bazaar (UK)


Why forging ahead in business requires a revolution at home


Iam at home at 10am, because the front-door lock fell off. The locksmith, booked by my other half before he headed off to work, is set to come in the time slot between 9am and eternity. While I’m consigned to daytime domesticit­y, I might as well pop the washing on, scrub some mud off a teenage rugby boot and try to get the long-delayed electricia­n in. Now, where were we with the emails I would have dashed off in the first half hour in the office?

None of this would happen to Tiffany Dufu, a prominent American feminist, who is the author of a compelling book Drop the Ball:

Achieving More by Doing Less. Women, she argues, should stop mentally taking responsibi­lity for housework; otherwise, we are kidding ourselves about achieving real equality.

In which case, I am doing it wrong. I adore my work as a journalist, but as it has expanded, it means a lot more travel and dealing with midnight emails from the US. Meanwhile the house, I feel, is my crafty enemy, lurking with its missing lightbulbs, satellite-TV outages and other disruption­s, which I feel are my job.

Not according to Dufu, who believes that in order to ‘lean in’ at work, women should correspond­ingly ‘lean back’ at home. ‘We grow into womanhood with the sense that to prioritise ourselves is some kind of moral offence,’ she says. ‘Women do have permission to fulfil their ambitions, as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of caring for others. That’s where the conundrum comes.’

Dufu has a firm recipe for re-balancing domestic commitment­s: draw up a list of household tasks, agree who will do what, and accept that there are chores that no one will do. And although one might think this sounds like an impossible dream, she presents a strong argument for revisiting existing arrangemen­ts – even if it means simply saying ‘that’s not my job’. So what’s in it for men? Apart from happier partners, Dufu thinks that women who are freed to throw themselves into work will earn more, if they aren’t so frazzled by who’s cleaning behind the fridge.

Her strategies have included not opening the post for three months, so her husband was forced to do it when he finally clocked the parking tickets… She refuses to answer party invitation­s for her children, replying to emails asking hosts to contact her spouse instead. And she puts her finger on a disjunctur­e between the roles many of us have at work and at home. ‘We assume that women who work outside the home are positive role models,’ she says. ‘But most children don’t see their mothers in that external context. For them, you’re still the person making the dinner.’

This revolution starts small. Yet it is part of a wider movement, known in the US as ‘peer marriage’, in which formalisin­g 50:50 splits of domestic duties is willingly accepted by both sides. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg is a prominent advocate of the 50:50 philosophy, and argues that this deal is more valuable than any other she has pulled off. ‘Your most important deal is the one with the person you

The house, I feel, is my crafty enemy, lurking with its missing lightbulbs

settle down with,’ she told me. Her late spouse Dave Goldberg gave up his own highpowere­d tech job to enable a smoother family existence with their two children. ‘After a lot of effort and seemingly endless discussion, we [were] partners not just in what we do, but in who is in charge,’ she told Dufu. ‘Each of us makes sure that things that need to get done do indeed get done.’

My own friends’ domestic arrangemen­ts come close to reflecting Sandberg’s. Kate Cullinan is a designer, who has worked for Wayne Hemingway as well as advising on contempora­ry property and running popup bars. Her husband Roddy Langmuir is a former Olympic skier whose architectu­ral projects require decamping to various parts of the UK and the Middle East. Their jobs consequent­ly require Herculean levels of flexibilit­y, juggling a home in Camden with four children attending school or university.

One theme that emerges is a willingnes­s to vary orthodox patterns. ‘We have our main family holiday skiing at Easter,’ says Cullinan. ‘The summer holidays are so long that we take it in turns to go away with the kids. Each of us gets loads of work done and it restores some calm.’

Another of her tips is to formalise todo lists and stick to them (many of us are so worried about sounding domineerin­g that we are vague about what we want to happen in the home, then cross when it doesn’t get done).

‘When the kids were little, I would write an Excel chart. All four had different afterschoo­l activities and dietary requiremen­ts, so there would be a menu and a schedule with about 20 different phone numbers of other parents, the gym, the school, the choir, grandparen­ts, nannies, music teachers… I did this partly because it stopped anyone calling me while I was away, but also because a routine is less stressful.’ And the couple share tasks many households would still file away under a man’s remit. ‘We both do a lot of DIY – not just fixing stuff but building extensions, complete stripping and refits,’ Langmuir tells me.

But what if the job demands are divergent? Josh Brockner, a food and drink entreprene­ur with a background in finance, is the partner of the Financial Times’ most senior editor in the US, Gillian

Tett, who works round the clock running the paper’s largest foreign bureau, writing books and dashing to TV studios. Dining with them in New York sees him in charge of the kitchen, while she fixes the placement of guests from business, politics and the media. She will be quizzing a CEO on his merger plans while her husband is rustling up dinner for 17 on a Sunday night. This version of choresplit­ting is about each partner working to his or her strengths, rather than dividing the duties down the middle. ‘When we got together, I thought, “This house could work so much better with a different allocation of tasks,”’ says Brockner. ‘So, whether it’s filling the freezer with stocks and sauces, or carpentry, I get on it. Gillian is flatout busy with a huge job. She wants to enjoy being with her girls when she gets home, not running yet another schedule. And as a business guy, I’d say, “Why would you do something less well that someone else can do better?”’

And if all else fails, there’s always outsourcin­g. ‘For most of my busy profession­al clients, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to manage their domestic lives and their profession­al ones. They look at their todo lists, and find them overwhelmi­ng,’ says Liz Price of the Londonbase­d concierge business Price & Price Bespoke (www.pricebespo­ke.com). ‘I’m there because their time is valuable, and I can take over and ease the load.’

So in the spirit of peer marriage, the next time something goes awry at our place, I will announce that I am formally dropping the ball. Either this will transform my husband’s outlook and drive on female equality – or we will go for half a year without a door lock.

Anne McElvoy is a senior editor at ‘The Economist’ and a member of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Moral Maze’ panel. ‘Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less’ by Tiffany Dufu (£14.99, Flatiron Books) is out on 6 April. For details of April’s Bazaar At Work event featuring Tiffany Dufu, see page 82.

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 ??  ?? Tiffany Dufu with her husband
Tiffany Dufu with her husband Kojo
 ??  ?? Above: Kate Cullinan, Roddy Langmuir and family. Right: Gillian Tett and Josh Brockner
Above: Kate Cullinan, Roddy Langmuir and family. Right: Gillian Tett and Josh Brockner
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