I first wrote a blog on this topic a few years ago and it definitely ruffled a few feathers so, in support of International Women’s Day– I thought it was worth updating and re-sharing some more thoughts on the topic.
As an active supporter of female entrepreneurship and as a female entrepreneur myself I know firsthand the importance of ensuring you have a rock-solid team both professionally and personally to support you as your business grows. However, my comment relates specifically to the effectiveness of male partners (i.e. husbands and boyfriends) actually taking a fundamentally important role in their female partner’s businesses. Can it work? What are the pitfalls? And how can you avoid them?
There are many examples of male business owners successfully employing their wives as support, usually in a subordinate role, administration and bookkeeping being the most typical; however, I don’t believe it is as easy to reverse the roles effectively when a woman is at the helm.
How do you maintain a healthy personal relationship privately when as a female you may wish for your partner to take the lead in your relationship, yet reverse those roles on a daily basis professionally?
However, I have successfully run my business for 10 years and employed my husband for the past six years, so it is possible, but it does not happen without potentially added tensions.
This is linked to the paradox that faces many female entrepreneurs (and their relationships) and the continuous shifting gender roles generally in our ever-evolving society.
The reality is that if one of you is an entrepreneur (and this is even more prevalent when you have additional family responsibilities) the other needs to be the primary caregiver, and in the case of a female entrepreneur if this additional domestic support is not freely offered by her partner, then it needs to be from another source, an extended family member, or employed i.e. a housekeeper or nanny.
Having said all of that, my husband and I do work together, he has a key leadership role in our company so here are some lessons we’ve learnt that make the dynamics of our professional relationship work.
Separate your working environments if necessary.
I tend to be away for most of the working week, tough on family life, but we’ve found perfect for our business relationship. Even when I’m ‘working from home’ I try and work in a different physical space than my husband who is based permanently in our home office. He can tolerate me in ‘his cave’ for a day or so, more than that and it starts to show.
Agree on communication boundaries
The evening we were lying in bed, discussing a work-related topic…was a pivotal moment! Therefore, we try very hard not to discuss work during non-work hours, and instead, just like everyone else in our team, we book meetings together, issue agendas and stick to the issues at hand when we need to discuss business issues. My lovely husband has also learnt over the years when to voluntarily offer up his opinion uninvited and when to keep schtum! It’s tough because sometimes I do want his opinion as my personal confidant but also do not want to be questioned on every strategic decision I make.
Be clear to the rest of your team the business hierarchy
Our organisation is very flat, and nobody is micro-managed, however from your team’s perspective, it’s important that they know who they report to. If your other half keeps chipping in where they are not needed that can cause issues with your team. You do not want to create a divide between you, your husband and the rest of your business. Likewise, you need to treat your husband’s business responsibilities in the same way you would the rest of the team – you must maintain the same standards for all. Finally, your partner needs to be clear never to undermine your authority in front of your subordinates. Keep the domestics domestic!
Decide on the division of labour in your ‘whole life’
It’s normal that one person will have a lead role in their career and, therefore, the other partner will likely have the lead role domestically. It is unusual for this to be female/male as opposed to the other way round, but it’s important if you are a female entrepreneur that you have these discussions early and that your partner is comfortable in supporting them, otherwise your domestic life will become a constant battle about who’s job is more important, who needs to work late and which business trip is more critical.
Someone has to be available to pick the kids up in an emergency, look after them in the school holidays, sort out their after-school clubs and so on. In our case, during the week my husband takes the lead domestic role, and I support as much as possible when I am at home and on the weekends – but I also respect that this is his domain and in the same way that sometimes he has to be mindful of his opinions of my decisions in the business, I have to do the same of his ability to manage our household. And yes, there have been times when I’ve arrived home after four days away and let’s just say the general tidiness of our home was not to the standard I would like. In those moments I have to consciously find something positive to say, as I know he has been spinning lots of plates whilst I’ve been absent and any criticism at that moment would not serve a positive purpose.
However, we make it work and his support both professionally and personally leaves me free to be able to focus 100% on our business when I need to be doing just that.
I firmly believe the age-old adage ‘Behind every successful man is a strong woman’.
However, in support of International Women’s Day I’d also like to introduce the following saying, which I also firmly believe to be true:
‘Behind every successful female entrepreneur is a modern man who doesn’t mind making dinner, picking up the kids and is competent in the use of all domestic appliances!’