For some women, the secret to balancing career and family has been a partner who stays at home.
That’s according to the findings of Finance News’s sixth annual survey of women working in London’s financial sector.
It’s not common. Just 5% of survey respondents have partners who do not work, and run the household, although this increases to 10% among those who have worked in the industry for over 15 years. But for some women, it’s been crucial.
Helena Morrissey, who juggles being chief executive of Newton Investment Management with being the chair of the Investment Association, said it would have been “impossible” to have balanced her career and raising a family without the support of her stay-at-home-husband, Richard.
Her case is exceptional, as she is the mother of nine, six girls and three boys, whose ages range from seven to 24. The decision for Richard to stay at home full time was made, Morrissey says, after the birth of their fourth child, 17 years ago.
She said: “It seemed like a normal decision, but now I realize it was quite unusual. One of the main motivations for us was we weren’t having much of a life. We didn’t feel like we had any time, and it was all very tense, consistently trying to be in two places at once.
“It’s difficult to know what would have happened [if Richard had not decided to become a stay-at-home partner]. I don’t think we would have carried on having more children, and we would have struggled to have time together.”
Her partner Richard Morrissey said the decision had meant their worlds were not separate from each other. He said: “It is very valuable to feel you are a team together, ideally with complementary capacities.”
Helena Morrissey said that stay-at-home partners were an “observable phenomenon” among fellow senior women. She said: “I don’t want others to be discouraged and think it’s impossible with two people working, but to get to senior level it is very difficult unless you massively outsource every aspect of your life.”
Alison Jefferis, head of corporate communications at Columbia Threadneedle, said that with two boys she would have struggled to progress up the ladder without her stay-at-home husband. She said: “It removes a lot of the tension and logistical difficulties. When we had our first child it just made more sense. I had a more stable career and was earning more. It was a practical decision.
“Travel has been significantly more do-able because my partner has been at home looking after the children, it takes away the stress and the feeling of guilt.”
Fiona Frick, the chief executive officer of Unigestion, who does not have a stay-at-home partner, said the key to balancing her career with bringing up her two children had been “sharing responsibility” with her husband, who works on a vineyard 20 minutes from home. She said: “When I travel, my husband has to take over — it’s really about organization and having a husband who’s open enough to say it’s not about the women.”
What the husband thinks
Richard Morrissey is husband to Helena Morrissey, whose roles include CEO of Newton Investment Management, chair of the Investment Association,and co-founder of the 30% Club. He has been a stay-at-home husband since their fourth child (they now have nine).
His thoughts: “It should be a joint decision. It is very important that both parties truly agree to the arrangement. And then do not try to see one or other partner as being more or less valuable. There are different forms of value and what you are trying to do is to create a supportive environment for your family. That requires money, but it also requires many other inputs, which may seem less tangible in our commoditized world, but are very important none the less.
“Depending on the specific circumstances, the arrangement does not have to be for ever. Working conditions are changing and it will be increasingly possible to move in and out of various work environments. Indeed it may become a necessity. So it is useful to think flexibly and to be open to things changing further down the line. Life is fluid and unpredictable.
“There is no template or right approach applicable to everyone as people have different capacities and psychological profiles. Some men and women may find it more difficult to be the one at home. Again it depends on their make-up. I am confident in myself and do not feel defined by others or by any “traditional” role, so it is relatively easy for me to do this.
“Of great importance is the fact that I feel an equal partner with Helena and we collaborate on a wide range of things. Our worlds are not separate from each other. It is very valuable to feel you are a team together, ideally with complementary capacities.”
For more findings from Financial News’s 2016 Women in Finance survey, see the special report here.