Power couples need love and logistics

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Under the spotlight were Maryann Gallivan, executive director at Goldman Sachs, and Paul Bell, president of Dell for Europe, Middle East and Africa Debra Earp, partner in PwC's global capital markets group, and Michael Pratt, a director in PwC's transaction services division.

They fielded questions on everything from childcare to working abroad and housework. The conclusion: life in a 'power couple' can be hard, particularly when there are children, and particularly for the woman. But careful planning can make things easier, as can a balanced approach to meeting the needs of both individuals.

Travel and time constraints emerged as the chief sources of hardship during the early stages of a relationship. Meeting in a different city each weekend is not uncommon.

Earp said: 'We were newly wed, but we weren't spending any time together. It was going to take us 20 years to reach the seven-year itch.' If one partner is posted abroad there are extra complications. Invariably, someone has to compromise and become the 'trailing partner'.

Earp followed Pratt to Hungary, a move that she did not see as benefiting her career, but which at least meant that she and her husband were working in the same city. Earp's move actually worked out well for her career, but ideally a move abroad should be planned so that it benefits both partners from the start.

Gallivan and Bell have managed to synchronise their stints overseas so that they can both spend more time together and advance their careers. Stranded in Boston and Austin, Texas, respectively, Gallivan and Bell spent months 'signalling' to Goldman Sachs and Dell that they were keen to work in London, the only place, apart from Shanghai, where the two companies have offices where both could realistically work. They moved last year.

In some cases, employers help couples to co-ordinate their dual careers. Stephen Sidebottom, human resources director for equities at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, says that the bank will co-ordinate with a partner's employer in an effort to ensure that both members of a couple can move internationally. He says that partners with established careers tend to be less flexible and that the number of trailing partners who are men is on the increase. Even when locations have been favourably synchronised, difficulties may still arise.

Gallivan is expecting a baby and Earp, who has a six-month-old son, suggested that this can change a couple's attitudes. 'We have outsourced the cleaning, the gardening and the washing,' she said. 'But you cannot outsource the emotional bond that you have with your child.'

If pressure of working and raising her son becomes too much, Earp said that she might stop working, or do so part-time. Being a househusband did not appeal to her spouse.

Psychologists find this unsurprising. 'There is role conflict in dual-earning couples,' says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Manchester School of Management, and author of Balancing Career Family and Life.

'There are domestic roles as well as careers. Invariably the domestic role falls on the woman. New men do not really exist.'

Because of the difficulties faced by dual-career couples, career-minded individuals may be better off with a partner who does not work.

Cyril Levicki, author of Developing Leadership Genius, says: 'Strong business leaders seek partners who are ambitious for happiness maximisation rather than power maximisation.

'The partner needs to be able to prick their ego a little bit, but to give them a sense of comfort and safety, invariably by creating a beautiful home or raising a family.'

The head of human resources at an investment bank in London agrees: 'Banking jobs are demanding and involve so much travel, that it becomes more important to have a partner at home,' he said.

Being part of a one-career couple may be more relaxing, with less of the stress from the workplace that can affect home life in dual-career households. Sophie Crossfield, a researcher at the University of Hertfordshire, studied stress in couples comprising bankers, consultants and IT workers.

She found that men in dual earning couples were less able to cope with the spillover of stress. This may help explain why women give up work more frequently than men.

But Crossfield emphasises that there are personal as well as financial advantages to being in a dual-earning couple.

Two incomes are a boon so, too, is the satisfaction felt by two individuals who enjoy what they do all day.

Cooper says that the most important thing is that each member of a couple is fulfilled, whether fulfilment comes from baking cakes or doing deals.

At the London Business School, Gallivan and Bell said that the advantages of their dual-career relationship included understanding, mentoring and straight-talking.

They were able to act as career counsellors to each other and their business experience made them better able to talk frankly about what they wanted from the future, as well as create a strategy for achieving it.

'We are a logistical and economic partnership,' said Bell.

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