Monday, 15 April 2013

Get me to the church on time

I heard the wonderful Helena Morissey on Women's Hour this week talking about the secret of her success.  She said it was having a supportive husband explaining in a matter of fact way that her husband liked taking care of the family and she liked going to work.  Her directness was very appealing. Her comments come on the back of Helen Fraser, the CEO of the Girls' Day School Trust who talked about the need to raise awareness with girls that if they want a career they need to pick the right husband.  Not just one who will 'do the dishes' but one who will genuinely support them in their career ambitions. Vicki Woods wrote a great article expanding on the theme in The Telegraph.

I couldn't agree more - and in my experience it's not just about choosing a partner with the right attitude, but also trying to find them when you are reasonably young.  I have always felt that a key factor in my ability to be a successful CEO was my decision to get married and have both my children before I was 30. 

There is strong evidence that one of the reasons women are failing to make it into the most senior positions is because they lack a strong partner to help them.   And this is partly because they wait until they are in their thirties or later to settle down and start to have children.  Not only does this mean that their childbearing years will coincide with exactly the time in their career when they are at the tipping point for breaking through the glass ceiling, they are trying to do two incredibly difficult things at once - progress up the corporate ladder whilst working out the rules for a happy balanced family life.

Today  the average age women get married is 33.  I was 26 which seems alarmingly early now- even then I was the first of my friends to trip down the aisle. 

For many years I felt the odd one out.  During my thirties, everyone I knew was moving into glamorous houses and taking three holidays a year. On the other hand, we were living in the same house and embracing Key Camp holidays for the family rather than hitting the slopes at Val d'Isere. As my children went to secondary school my contemporaries were going on maternity leave.  I wondered if I'd missed out on the great secret that everyone else knew.

And one day it all made sense. At the age of 40 I was asked to  become a CEO.  I didn't immediately accept  - I was worried about the impact it would have on family life. After much discussion, my husband Richard decided he would give up his job to take care of the children.  That meant I could go into the role with no strings attached, from day one. It's a tough call but one that more and more men are making.  I can't find any statistics on men as primary carers, but almost all senior women I know do have a partner who is the primary carer for the children even if he doesn't give up work completely.

So my advice is to start thinking about finding the "one" and having children in your mid-late twenties.  There's no evidence it leads to more divorce - spikes seem to come from either very early or second marriages. And I'm please to see my view on this point at least chimes with that of US blogger Penelope Trunk  - a great read if often controversial.

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