With the increased attention on equality, we are (hopefully) seeing gains for women in the workplace. The three generations in the workforce today – Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials – have seen successively more women enter the workforce, an accomplishment that should be celebrated.
Yet for dual-career households real challenges are left unaddressed. Chauffeuring children, buying groceries, completing home projects are among many responsibilities that need to find a place in crowded schedules. The new economy doesn’t come with a model which balances family and work.
We must create one ourselves. As we do, we can help alleviate the pain points of the modern family.
False comparisons. Looking at our peers, we are tempted to believe that everyone else is “normal,” and we aren’t. Other parents seem to attend every school function, our colleagues seem to have their careers in hand. Heaven help us if we look at social media. But we can free ourselves from these beliefs if we have an outlet to honestly share our struggles.
Managing portfolio careers. Complicating our career paths has been the emergence of portfolio careers. Gone are the days of spending your career at one company. Instead the expectation is to create a portfolio of experience between a series of roles in multiple companies. Lifelong education, reskilling, and ongoing growth have become the rule, not the exception. Ascertaining what is the next professional step is a challenge in itself in today’s economy.
Taking turns. Portfolio careers become unwieldy when both partners need make investments in their professional growth over time. Careers don’t progress evenly, or even predictably. A decision made by one partner has impacts on the other, and on the family. Our generation needs to develop a new skill set. We need to learn whose career should take priority, for how long, and when. More importantly we need to learn to talk about it.
Opening lines of communication. Time comes at a premium for dual-career couples. But spending time talking is necessary to understand how we can support our partners, and to ask for the support we need from them. Opportunities can arise suddenly – a job offer out of state, a promotion that means more hours. Without open lines of communication at home two things can happen. We can give up on our aspirations, assuming we won’t gain our partner’s support. Or we can also make decisions individually, and so steamroll our partner. If we don’t take the time and practice talking, we can fall into either of those roles habitually.
A way forward.
Seeing that challenges exist is the first step. The next is to find a way of exploring the future with your spouse.
Try the following steps to help create a shared strategy for pursuing two careers.
[Separately] Write down your answers to the two following questions. Limit your responses to one page each.
'What are your aspirations in your personal and professional life? How would you prioritize them? Why?’
‘What are your possible professional opportunities? What are the costs? Which do you think is the best fit? Why?’
Spend time with your responses. Edit for clarity. Check that you say what you mean and mean what you say. The space limit is on purpose. You’re creating a vision that your partner can read and that they would read. Don’t let your aspirations be ambiguous. Be their champion.
[Separately] Read each other's two written pages.
How can you help support their aspirations? Does their vision spark any insights for your own?
Brainstorm ideas to help your partner succeed. Don’t worry about your own success, your partner is strategizing on your behalf.(And you do that naturally on your own).
[Together] Schedule a time to discuss. This should be a calendar event (hire a babysitter if you need to).
What did you learn about each other?
What new ideas did you each generate? Share your ideas on how you can help each other succeed. Can you put them together into something stronger?
Advocate for each other’s aspirations. Your role as a partner is to help each other become the best versions of yourselves.
Come to an understanding of how you will manage your resources for the immediate future. Write them down so you know exactly the commitment.
When you are going to revisit your decision? This is an ongoing process.
Remember that life unfolds unpredictably. This is a starting point. No one has a complete toolset on how to manage two careers in today’s world. Careers change too quickly. So does the world. The best we can hope to do is to create tools that help our children navigate these decisions more successfully.