THE BLOG

Domestic Duties Impact Women of Main Street As Well As Wall Street

12/10/2013 01:02 pm ET | Updated Feb 09, 2014

We can't have it all if we're too busy doing it all. Despite the fact that women are breadwinners in a record number of U.S. households, they still average much more time on housework and childcare than men do. Even in homes where couples split chores like cooking, cleaning and yard work, women tend to shoulder the burden of invisible tasks like scheduling doctor's appointments, arranging carpools and organizing play dates. And this inequity at home leads to inequity at work; there is a direct and negative correlation between housework and career success.

The New York Times examines this connection in its recent article "Wall Street Mothers, Stay-Home Fathers" that looks at a growing number of women in financial services who are married to stay-at-home husbands. These women, per the article, benefit from "a direct link between their ability to achieve and their husbands' willingness to handle domestic duties." Authors Jodi Kantor and Jessica Silver-Greenberg write, "These marriages are Wall Street-specific experiments in money, work, family and power." I say they're Main Street experiments too.

In all different industries at all different income levels, couples are struggling with how to balance two careers and home life. While writing the book Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman, I talked to women all across the country and know that even in marriages where neither partner commands a Wall Street salary, couples are playing the whose-job-is-more-important game everyday. There's Kate, a fundraiser for a non-profit. She and her husband both work full-time and earn approximately the same salary. "It's always a struggle," she told me. "In the past, whoever made a little less had to bend a little. " And there's Shana, also in the non-profit industry, who had to make a choice about whose career -- hers or her husband's -- would take priority following the birth of their son. Because her job required frequent travel and what she described as ridiculous hours, she quit and started her own consultancy. Stephanie, a client service associate and mother of two, told me she felt more pressure at work than at home. "It's OK to take an occasional child sick day, but you can't be the one doing carpool run."

When a child is sick and can't go to daycare, when the school schedules a teacher conference mid-day or when the job requires overnight travel on no notice, someone has to put career first and someone else has to put family first. And usually, it's the woman's career that takes the back seat.

Yes, the number of stay-at-home-fathers has doubled in the past decade. But according to data from the Pew Research Center, only 3.5 percent of households have a man at home full-time while the woman works. I live in one of those households and am personally aware of the risks and rewards. I can start working at 6 a.m. if I need to without worrying about school lunches or carpools. I can take a client to dinner and not have to arrange a sitter. I can book next-day business travel without consulting someone else's calendar. Outside of the occasional school performance or soccer game I refuse to miss, I am free to say yes to the demands of my career.

As with every choice, however, there are tradeoffs. Our family's income is dependent on just one person and we stretch that non-Wall Street salary across four people. Still, I am lucky to have a choice to make. Many couples cannot make that decision, nor do they want to, and really, they shouldn't have to.

It is beyond time that businesses address the two-working parent family. Offering flexible policies isn't enough. Creating truly flexible cultures where it's okay to work from home, take paternity leave or paid sick leave, is what's needed. And men must do their fair share at home. According to Pew, stay-at-home fathers spend about four hours more per week than their working partners in housework, and about two hours more per week in child care. Stay-at-home mothers, on the other hand, average about 26 hours per week in housework and about 20 hours in child care.

Kantor and Silver-Greenberg write of the people they profile, "It is not clear... if these couples are leaders in the march toward gender equality or examples of how little is shifting on Wall Street." I say both. The more people eschew outdated gender roles, the easier it will be for all of us to make the decisions that work best for our families. But ultimately, the goal is for workplaces, from Wall Street to Main Street, to allow working parents to do just that -- work and parent.