How female bankers handle their househusbands: a user's guide

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Not as helpful as he looks

Not as helpful as he looks (Photo credit: JoséMa Orsini)

If you're a woman and you want to combine working 70-hour weeks in a financial services job with raising a family, you will probably need one of two things: copious nannies, or a man-about-the-house.

Based upon our conversations with female bankers, househusbands, rather than nannies, are increasingly becoming the mode of choice for keeping things organized on the home front. Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management, famously has one. Househusbands are important for, 'unlocking that pipeline of women,'  Morrissey told Heather Macgregor, co-author of Mrs Moneypenny's Careers Advice for Ambitious Women.

This approach has its hazards. Research published last year by the University of Chicago and the University of Singapore suggested relationships are destabilized the moment a woman earns even a small amount more than her male partner. How, then, do high-earning female bankers handle their (emasculated) men and avoid marital meltdown?

Here are their top tips:

Empower the man

Don't micro-manage the man about the house, for you will get nowhere.

"I don't actually tell him to do anything," said one project manager at a large financial services firm, whose househusband looks after their three-year-old son. "I empower him. I trust him to deliver - he is aware that it is his job to look after the kids and the house."

Sheryl Sandberg has reached the same conclusion. In her book on 'Leaning In', the Facebook chief operating officer says women need to avoid 'maternal gatekeeping.' Maternal gatekeeping is defined by Sandberg as, 'a fancy term for “Ohmigod, that’s not the way you do it! Just move aside and let me!”

Don't focus on how much you've done and how little he's done

If you've been working all day and he's been hanging out at home, it may be tempting to run a tally to show just how overworked you are, particularly when you are also doing a lot of cleaning and wiping of the surfaces. Don't.

"Don’t run an internal scorecard of who’s done what during the week," advises one senior woman working in equities. "I did it for years," she added, " Before we split up."

"I have the kind of husband who can step over two things on the stairs and not even notice they're there," says another househusband-owner. "I've learned to pick them up and let it go."

Be appreciative 

Ok, so your househusband may not be an all-singing all-dancing housewife of the clean-and-tidy-home variety, but try and get a little perspective.

"My husband did all the ferrying around when the children were at junior school and he's was there for them," said Fleur Bothwick, EMEIA director of diversity and inclusiveness at Ernst & Young. "He has meant that I haven't had to leave work at 5pm every day. I often forget the importance of not having to watch the clock," she added.

Consider pragmatic outsourcing

"If you are going to fall out over something, then outsource it," said one former banker with three children and a househusband. "Either you need to learn to live with the fact that someone else is doing something for you - and that they may have different standards, or you will need to pay someone to do it to your own high standards."

Helena Morrissey appears to have reached this conclusion. We didn't talk to her directly but according to MacGregor's book, she has a stay-at-home husband and a nanny.

Don't go out partying every night with clients and colleagues 

After-hours socialising may be part of your job description, but this doesn't mean that your househusband will be happy if you come home late night after night.

"Be sensitive to concerns about how often you have to go out after work with colleagues or clients," advised the female equities banker, who has parted ways with her stay-at-home man.

Compromise

"Don't expect your househusband to be at home doing things the way you would do it – you will be so disappointed – you have to compromise about the standards of things," said Bothwick.

"Try not to get annoyed when the fridge is full of rotten vegetables," advised the project manager. "You just have to get it go when things are not done how you want them to be done - it's not your call.

"It's hard," she admits. "When I first came back from maternity leave, it was horrible - he was calling all the time asking how to do things and I found it very hard to let go."

Don't hold grudges

After a long day at work, a return to the home may present the perfect opportunity for venting about past misdemeanours - particularly if those misdemeanours involved uncompleted housework. Don't go there. "Don’t hold grudges, especially when you’re tired or stressed – let it go," said the equities banker.

Do give him spending money 

The househusband may not be an old-fashioned housewife, but this is no excuse for leaving him penniless in the shed.

"Always give him some money," said the project manager. "You must give him some cash so that he feels empowered."

Do encourage the househusband to do something outside the house 

It's difficult for men to be perceived socially as overly-domesticated. Think about how you will address this issue before it arises, advised one ex-banker with a househusband.

"What will he say when someone asks him what he does at a dinner party?" she said. "It really helps if he has something else going on and doesn't just say he's a househusband. Get him to go and do some volunteering in the community," she suggested.

Bothwick's husband is volunteering. Helena Morrissey's husband, formerly a financial journalist, is now a Zen-Buddhist-monk-artist househusband who works from home.

Don't expect it to be easy

Lastly, female financial services professionals with stay at home husbands say pretenders to their situation should be warned: a househusband is not necessarily a helpful housewife.

"You will need enormous resilience and energy, incredible organizational skills, patience and a willingness to sacrifice your non-working time to be with your children," she said. "I take most of my leave during the school holidays to look after the children. I do all the cooking for the week at the weekends. I do all the bills and the finance and the birthdays and Christmas. He does the washing and the ironing," she added.

Related articles:

Twenty money saving tips from bankers and their wives

How to tell your wife (or husband) that you got a bad bonus

Why hedge fund wives don't do Switzerland 

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