What Women Need From Their Partners To Thrive In Their Careers
When I picked up a copy of the Fairlady Magazine off the rack in the store in July 2017, I had no idea that inside a very important article was awaiting me. Claire Danes of Homeland fame was on the cover so a cursory glance at what was inside did not hint at all to the fact that Sheryl Sandberg, the well-regarded COO of Facebook, was about to give women a masterclass on how their choice of partner is a factor in their success. A year later, I still have the magazine because it has always been my intention to share, and what better time than August, right? The article, titled, Good Grief, was on how Sheryl Sandberg had gone about handling her bereavement after losing her husband, Dave Goldberg, and becoming a widow at the age of 45. She has also co-written written a book about this experience titled, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.
So, what made Dave Goldberg such a critical part of Sheryl Sandberg’s success? In her book, which I haven’t read yet, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg has apparently dedicated a whole chapter to the topic of choosing the right partner, who, according to her, includes, “someone willing to share the workload at home.” Fairlady quotes her saying in a 2011 speech, “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.” And isn’t that just the truth? Truly speaking, in the real world, a woman’s choice of partner has significant implications for her career advancement.
I joined the world of work 16 years ago as a freshly graduated, wide-eyed, reluctant, Lawyer. I knew nothing about “women’s issues” back then and just assumed that things were the way they were supposed to be. My Mom, a retired high school teacher, published writer and Founder of a promotion literacy NGO, had always held it down in the home, with domestic help of course, and in her teaching career. My most vivid memories of her during my school days involve her clicking away at her powder blue and cream manual typewriter producing manuscript after manuscript, marking her student’s assignments and tests, starting up schools and community projects and being an all-round Rockstar. She was an ideas factory and loved to network and start things up. The only time my Father cooked was when she was not there for a couple of days, or the helper was off. I do not remember a single episode in that entire time when Mom asked Dad to help her with any domestic duties. Like, ever.
I therefore assumed, as I came into my own as a young woman, that I’d be this powerhouse who’d simultaneously run a home and a successful career. Ironically, my LLB dissertation had been a study of how maternity protection mechanisms were not adequate to address women’s ability to balance work and family. That men also had a role to play and that half of these things were not inherently “women’s work” largely escaped me due to my social conditioning. My thinking at the time was that this was inherently about women and their role in society. That is, until I got immersed in the world of work and began to see how married female colleagues, in particular, always got the short end of the stick when it came to balancing their work and family responsibilities. The attitude of male colleagues, and males in general, started rubbing me off the wrong way. Things just started to make no sense and the attitude of male entitlement and lack of sensitivity was totally off-putting. Something was just not smelling right.
Sixteen years later my thinking has completely shifted, and I am now of the view that the only thing that cannot be changed is biology. Apparently, men cannot carry babies for 9 months and birth them. Well and good. But all else is open for collaboration. Not because men are being nice, and women are such excellent negotiators, but because that is what people who see each other as human beings do. Marriage is a partnership, a partnership of equals run on principles of equity.
According to Fairlady (August 2017), in Lean In, “Sheryl commended her husband, Dave for his commitment to sharing child-care equally; it was because he was a hands-on Dad to their two kids that she could put in the hours at work.” How else was she going to become one of the few female billionaires in the world, and all the other accolades she has racked up, without a supportive partner? In her new book, Option B, she says about her deceased husband, “Dave gave me the experience of being deeply understood, supported and utterly loved.”
Very few women, especially the women that I relate to most frequently and deeply, that is, young Black professional women, can genuinely utter the same words about their partners in marriage and in life. All I hear about is men who behave as if “babysitting” their own children one Saturday a year warrants a Dad of the Year Award and a press conference to announce this feat. I am pretty sure that men who play a hands-on role in the home do exist but remember I am talking about women that I know personally. None of them report having partners who share the load with them. Ironically, without the woman’s income, the family would not be able to afford a middle-class lifestyle. So, this then begins to sound a lot like exploitation. In what decent, humane and equitable world does a man rely on his wife’s income but does not pull his weight in the domestic milieu?
I wish that all women can find their Dave Goldberg’s because I am sure that they exist. I also sure do hope that women, in partnership with their husbands or partners, can raise their sons to emulate the Dave’s of this world. Another thing I find quite ironic and totally mind-bending is when women complain about the lack of support and partnership at home but they become the gatekeepers of this patriarchal set-up and end up defending their sons later in life when they do the exact same things that their fathers did. Breaking these ways of thinking and being require leadership from women as well. Leadership is required from all of us so that we can all thrive and live out our God-given purpose. All human beings, regardless of gender or any other social label, deserve that.