“Competition and the shared desire to succeed can be a driving force for a couple”

This article is from Management magazine

*Anne-Cécile Sarfati, founder of the editorial consulting firm Actually, questioned in her book “We will succeed together. Dual career couples: brakes, pitfalls, keys(Albin Michel, 2021) dozens of dual career couples and around sixty experts. The result: inspiring testimonials and a host of practical solutions to successfully reconcile everything without sacrificing anything.

Who are the couples you interviewed?

Executives at the very beginning of their career or very experienced, with two or three people under their command or a very large team to manage. All have in common to have ambition at the start and not just professionally: they also want a fulfilling family life.

Is shared ambition the cement of these dual career couples?

Competition and the shared desire to succeed can be a booster. In successful couples, the partners often act as mentors or coaches for each other. They pull each other up and exchange a lot: “In this situation you should do this, the other day this happened to me…”

While we live in a very competitive world of work, they are certain that their confidences will not be betrayed. The foundation of a family nevertheless remains a tipping point and penalizes women in the first place in their careers… Often, what makes these couples explode is the overflow of things to manage. On the one hand, there is the acceleration of professional life between the ages of 30 and 40, because that is when companies identify their high potentials and help them grow into positions of responsibility.

At the same time, there is often the building of a family. Men and women are under pressure. Arbitration within the couple will often be against the woman, who will not accept or seek a promotion, for example. Asymmetries are badly experienced when they have the feeling of sacrificing themselves for the whole family. Conversely, other pitfalls appear when the two do not want to let go of their ambition. Thus, the desire to organize his family life in an almost accounting way. Rather than aiming for mathematical equality, it is better to aim for equity: you can be bad at managing the laundry but great at taking care of the children on Saturdays and allowing the other to breathe a little.

Which profiles of ambitious couples are doing the best?

Often those who do not have an account to render on their schedule. Moreover, they are more in mutual aid, the desire to nurture the success of one and the other. These are couples who have developed mutual empathy. This is important because, as an expert I interviewed points out, men sometimes lack it vis-à-vis their spouse…

Precisely, are these men more sensitive to equality between men and women?

Many interviewed men find it great to have a brilliant wife. They are rather proud if she succeeds and has ambition. On the other hand, when it comes to sharing daily tasks, the same problems come up. One can have feminist convictions, but be unequal in the distribution of work at home…

In your book, you call on public authorities and companies to initiate reforms for professional equality. What do you think are the most urgent measures to take?

One systematic crèche place per child under 3 years old. It is an absolute priority. We must not forget that the work of women stimulates growth! Paternity leave should also be compulsory, because it’s the only way for men to realize what it means to manage children. On the business side, I hope that presenteeism will disappear, perhaps thanks to the Covid… We have to find the right balance between face-to-face and remote. Companies must also agree to hear that in the event of an emergency, it is more important for an employee to take their child to the pediatrician than to stay late at the office, even if it means reconnecting later…

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