July 1, 2008
"I now pronounce you husband and...boss?"
Is it such a big deal when a husband works for the company his wife owns and runs? With 10.4 million U.S. firms owned by women, this was bound to happen more than a handful of times. But what are the dynamics of a husband working for his wife, and how does it impact their relationship outside the conference room?
An article in yesterday's New York Times tackled these questions and came up with the following answers:
Having clearly delineated roles works best. Looking over hubby's shoulder or crowding his workspace is a recipe for disaster. Instead, wife handles the tasks she's best at, husband follows suit, and everybody's happy.
Valuing hubby's contributions is a must. Again, the idea is to complement one another. Obviously the wife who appreciates her employee husband rather than taking him for granted or micromanaging him will get more mileage out of the arrangement.
Salaries can be tricky. Here's where the article gets to talking about whether men might feel "emasculated" by working for their wives. Thankfully the men interviewed for the article didn't fall prey to the retro notion that a woman who makes more money or wields more power than a man is threatening. But to keep things balanced, one couple highlighted in the story alternates between who earns more money each year, despite their positions at the company (the wife is the CEO, the hubby the COO). Another couple said that since they share all their personal finances anyway, it's irrelevant who brings home more bacon.
My first thought upon reading this article was, Why do we even need to ask if a man would feel threatened working for his wife? Weren't the 1950s half a century ago?
But as far as we've come in the past few decades, we're still not there yet. In many cases, men continue to make more coin than women in the same job. On the flip side, men don't get (or take) family-friendly benefits at the same rate as women, partly due to employer bias, partly due to their own concerns about hurting their careers. And some people who didn't get the memo that employment is now an equal opportunity endeavor for men and women make snide comments about husbands working for their wives.
In the coming weeks, I'll be looking to track down some couples who've flipped the traditional gender roles on their head and entered into a "wife as boss"/"husband as employee" arrangement. When I do, I'll post an interview or two here.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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