Picking the Right Husband for Your Career

A new study shows it's the partners they choose, not children, who hold women back in the workplace.


In the modern age, finding someone with whom we can share the rest of our lives is about so much more than butterflies and the sweetness of true love. With people jamming so much into their busy lives, compatibility is also about the achievement of personal and professional goals, and aligning with someone who can help make those goal attainable — or, at least, not get in the way.

For reasons fair and unfair, children are often cited as a roadblock that can inhibit the progression of a woman’s professional ascent. There is, of course, the professional pushback on women who decided to have children — their careers are maligned by fewer opportunities and less pay.

But a new study by Harvard Business School’s Robin Ely and Colleen Ammerman and Hunter College sociologist Pamela Stone suggest it’s not the children online who are the problem. It’s the partners that women choose.

“The secret [to success] is to marry someone 20 years older,” once joked Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, whose husband is retired.

If men are what “hold women back,” then it’s worth examining why women are inclined to allow their partner’s careers to take precedent over their own. Surely, for men in business fields, wives/family become part of the package one sells. This may include a partner who can “work the room” and mingle with other wives.

But are women given the space to be equally strategic about the type of partners they want in order to achieve their professional goals?

The short answer is “no.” Our culture is far more at ease about the idea of men being selective and women operating in support roles to a man’s position as head of house; relationships largely function based on those cultural assumptions. We, after all, are still asking ourselves if women can “have it all.”

In order for women to be strategic about their choice partner, they also should be as clear in the living room as they’d be in any boardroom. Communicating one’s professional goals to a potential mate is critical in evaluating whether or not there would be a support system in place in order to make those goals reality. There should be few assumptions (not even cultural ones) in a relationship; compatibility is about figuring out what works specifically between two people, using partnership to jump foreseeable obstacles, and winning the race.


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