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Working Harder for Dual-Career Families

Managing dual careers is not a work-life balance issue for women. It’s a workforce issue that organizations will have to address in order to boost the recruitment and retention of men and women for generations to come.

Courtesy of Melpomenem/ Getty Images

My two sons and one daughter have only known a life in which both their parents work demanding, high-pressure jobs. This is the only life I know, as well. My maternal grandparents both worked, my parents both had careers, and my husband and I have always run a dual-career household. I fully anticipate that my children will follow suit as they, too, one day start families of their own.

In fact, such households are increasingly common around the world. In the US and in Japan, about 60% of all households have two working parents, and that percentage is closer to 70% in Canada and Australia.

How are the children growing up in such families faring? Harvard Business School researchsuggests that they’re doing remarkably well. Studies completed in 24 countries revealed that women who grew up with working mothers are more likely to work themselves and to hold supervisory positions. They also earn higher salaries than women whose mothers stayed home full-time. And men whose mothers worked? They’re more likely to take on household chores and care for family members than those whose mothers did not work outside the home.

But being a part of a dual-career household presents the range of predictable challenges that crop up whenever an individual has to juggle caring for family members with pursuing full-time work: sick kids, flight delays, problems with childcare, school and sports events, and so on. A new BCG article on this topic points out that support for employees in dual-career families is minimal—especially at the leadership level, where the majority of executives have stay-at-home spouses who handle the everyday household agenda as well as the crises that arise.

It may be true that when both parents work full-time, a 50-50 split of household duties is ideal. But I would confess (and my husband would agree) that I felt much more of the burden of managing our home and three kids when they were small—partly because I just didn’t let my husband help, convincing myself he was busier or I was simply better at the chores. We achieved a good balance over time, however, and now we have struck a ‘new normal’ in our home.

I am so impressed by my next generation male millennial colleagues, who automatically take on shared responsibility of raising their kids, doing daycare drop-offs and pick-ups and generally making it clear how important job flexibility is to them, too. Corporate environments will inevitably change as that generation rises up the ranks. The war for talent will require employers to adapt: to change how people work—creating an agile work environment for everyone—and establish new and better definitions of success. More role models in leadership positions—which I hope I have been—will also pave the way for this new reality.

Managing dual careers is not a work-life balance issue for women. It’s a workforce issue that organizations will have to address in order to boost the recruitment and retention of men and women for generations to come.

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