I have long believed that the best thing you can do for your career is to choose a partner who supports you, and I can attest to the importance of doing so. I have three kids, an eight-year-old boy and four-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. I balance my family life and my management career in a fast-paced, globalized business unit at VMware. Some meetings start early in the morning, and others end at midnight or later. The only time I have with my family on weekdays is from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. When I decided to write Nevertheless, She Persisted: True Stories of Women Leaders in Tech, I knew it would mean I had to sacrifice my weekends. However, my husband has fully supported me in this project. He is a stay-at-home dad (he calls it a “work-from-home dad” – though he doesn’t pick up a paycheck for his work at home, it is most definitely work).
In addition to the challenge of maintaining a healthy work–life balance, I also have struggled against imposter syndrome while writing the book. I am known for my skills as a technologist and a leader – writing has never been a skill I have felt confident about. But my husband believed in me more than I believed in myself. He knew from the day that I decided to write the book that I would be able to do it – even with my work and family commitments. Indeed, he encouraged me, believing I have important things to say that will help other women on their journeys to becoming technology leaders. He has been my rock because he takes care of so much, and I have space to do this work – work that we both knew was important to me.
For every woman who wants to have a career in technology leadership and raise a family, I guarantee that, no matter whom you marry, balancing the two will be difficult, but it will be more manageable if you select a partner who is supportive and willing do their fair share of child-rearing and household chores.
But what do you do when your partner isn’t pulling their weight at home or with the kids? Sometimes a conversation is all it takes. One woman who reported to me was an energetic engineer and had high-growth trajectory. I wanted to get her to the next level, but something kept holding her back. When we had a candid conversation, she mentioned that her career inevitably took a back seat to her husband’s career. Surprisingly, it took only one conversation with her husband to shift their dynamics. He realized his lack of attention to things at home was unconscious and his thoughtless behavior was holding back her career. After that discussion, things changed significantly at home, and she was able to demonstrate that she was ready for the next level in her career.
Sometimes a situation remains the status quo only because we haven’t protested. If we speak up and advocate for ourselves, things may move in the direction we want. Until you try to make things go your way, you won’t know if you can.
A hard truth is that many women are now the sole breadwinners in the family. We can do it with a great support system, but the cultural expectation is that we’ll simultaneously take care of the household. Although that is an unrealistic expectation, guilt often accompanies us when we are out there changing the world with scant time for our families.
It is less common for fathers to be burdened with the guilt of working too much. They may experience guilt, but society does not blame them for being too dedicated to their careers in the same way that it blames women. In households with two working parents, both parents should be equally responsible for raising children. Blaming or shaming only mothers for being absent is unfair. The more we challenge the status quo, the more we will progress as a society and make the availability of work–life balance feasible for everyone.
Having men support women equally, from the moment their child is born, is a challenge we need to face as a society. We lose many highly qualified women once they start having children. This means men should also be given copious time for paternity leave. Mark Zuckerberg made that an example by taking two months off and I hope more men follow suit. Making child-rearing an equal-opportunity responsibility will help women get the support structure they need to come back to work. As a bonus, it provides gender-neutral role models for our children.
This extract, adapted from Nevertheless, She Persisted: True Stories Of Women Leaders In Tech by Pratima Rao Gluckman, is ©2018 and reproduced with permission from the author. www.pratimagluckman.com