“Should I go back in there and tell her I was kidding?” my husband asked me. I had just received the unsettling news that my boss resigned…. which, as it turned out, was just hours after my husband submitted his own resignation after 20 years with a blue chip firm. He continued: “… because now might not be the best time for me to leave…. What if your Board hires a new CEO who wants to bring in his own team?” We both let out nervous laughs. We had already charted our course.
My husband was embarking on an exciting new career. He was about to become a full-time stay-at-home-dad; trading in his VP title for PTO Treasurer.
Looking back, it was a busy and stressful time. Just a few months prior, I had been promoted to my first C-suite position with a company I loved. But my old position remained opened and I found myself juggling both roles. Then throw in a house move and an elementary school change. My 3rd grade tomboy wasn’t making any new friends – none of the boys would play with her at the new school and interacting with the girls was certainly not an option.
My husband could see the strain more clearly than I could. With my promotion, we could live off one salary, he said. We can’t both be traveling back and forth to NY without investing in a full-time nanny that can handle overnights. He was right. But I was annoyed.
Why did he get to stay at home with the kids? Not that I was volunteering, mind you. But that was my choice to make…. as a mother, right? If anyone was going to stay at home, shouldn’t it be me? I wondered what he’d do all day while the kids were at school…. Work on his golf game no doubt.
I stewed for a day or two, and my annoyance subsided. I realized I was jealous. How silly. I should be grateful to have a husband that was evolved enough to let me “have it all”: career and kids. Isn’t this what all women wanted? An equal shot at the boardroom? In a few short days, the jealousy faded to gratefulness. My husband really believed in me and my professional abilities. I suppose I had always known this, but his sacrifice hit it home for me.
There was, however, another unexpected emotion lurking around the corner: fear.
This emotion took longer to dissect. My stress level was not subsiding and I felt like I was in a constant state of worry. I wasn’t giving up my career, so what was I afraid of? It hit me in a hotel shower one morning when I was on the road: I did not plan for this.
I never planned on becoming the sole breadwinner. Even when my salary began to rise past my husband’s, I still (unconsciously) viewed my career and income as “extra”. In the back of my mind, I always felt I had the option to give up my career if I wanted to stay home with my kids. Women did it all the time. Men, however, not so much.
I thought back to my grade school days and my discussions around the dinner table with my Dad. He would always ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would say “an airline stewardess”. And my dad would say “why not a pilot?” Then I would say “how about a nurse?” And he would reply “why not a doctor?” And on and on, those conversations went. He wanted me to know I had choices. I could have any career I wanted. But he really wanted to make sure I would be self-sufficient. He was teaching me how to take care of myself.
We should all instill the values of independence and self-sufficiency in our girls, but I think many of us raise them to be the primary caretaker in the end. We raise our boys to be breadwinners. To be responsible. From an early age (around that same dinner table), my younger brothers learned that they would be financially responsible for their future families. The head of their household, the provider. We teach them to be leaders.
For all the discussion today around female leadership and the need for sponsors and mentors; for the powerful call for women to “lean in” at work and for men to do the same at home; we should consider this: unless we change the way we raise our sons and daughters, we will not have parity between male and female CEOs; and the stay-at-home dad will continue to be a novelty.
Like so many things in this life, the change has to start at home.
Erica McGinnis is the former President & CEO of Advisor Group, a financial services company that supports 800 employees and 5000 financial advisors located throughout the United States. Ms. McGinnis speaks on a variety of topics including employee engagement, culture building and women’s leadership. She grew up in Wayzata, MN and now lives in Scottsdale, AZ with her husband and two children.