Husbands hinder women’s careers, Harvard study finds

While children are often blamed for females falling behind in the boardroom a new Harvard study suggests it's actually husbands who are holding women back.

It is wondrous to think in this day and age that the debate about why more women aren’t climbing the corporate ladder at the same rate as men still rages on. And while children are often blamed for females falling behind in the boardroom a new Harvard study suggests it’s actually husbands who are holding women back.

In a bid to understand why women still can’t have it all researchers at the Harvard Business School studied more than 25, 000 of their graduates aged 26 to 67, to learn what the alumni had to say about work and family and how their experiences, attitudes, and decisions might shed light on prevailing controversies.

Of the graduates of the top-tier business school currently working full-time, men were 16 per cent more likely to be in senior management. And overall about 60 per cent of men reported feeling more satisfied with their careers across four different measures, including feeling their work is meaningful, being professionally accomplished, having growth opportunities, and feeling their work and personal lives are compatible.

Comparatively only 40-50 per cent of women were similarly satisfied on the same dimensions.

So as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg puts, have women “opted out” of the workforce? According to the reports deeper analysis how a couple distribute career and family responsibilities may contribute why women’s progress has stalled.

It has often been assumed that rearing children was a dominant explanation as to why women stymied in their attempts to climb the career ladder but the study states it simply isn’t true that a large proportion of HBS alumnae have “opted out” to care for children.

Of Gen X (ages 32-48) and Baby Boom (49-67) women (who are most likely to have children under 18 living with them today) only 11 per cent indicated they were out of the workforce to care for children full-time. That figure is even lower for women of colour who only recorded 7 per cent.

The study stated 74 per cent of Gen X alumnae are working full-time, as are 52 per cent of Baby Boom alumnae (some of whom, like their male counterparts, have retired or are cutting back on their hours), and they average 52 hours a week.

So if these highly skilled, highly trained women weren’t quitting why aren’t they progressing? The study indicates that imbalanced marital arrangements might be the culprit.

It could have something to do with the fact that more than 70 per cent of Gen X and boomer men say their careers are more important than their wives’.  In fact more than half of the male HBS grads that participated in the study believed that once they graduated, they expected their career to come before their partners’ career but when the female alumnus were asked the same question the vast majority stated that they had expected they would have egalitarian marriages, in which both spouses’ careers were taken equally seriously.

Also eighty-six per cent of Gen X and boomer men said their wives take primary responsibility for child care, and the females agreed with 65 per cent of Gen X women and 72 per cent of boomer women—all HBS grads and most of whom work—say they’re the ones who do most of the child care in their relationships.

So is the key to filling the gaping hole of women in top jobs actually changing men’s attitudes about the importance of their partners role in the workforce? If so, there is hope.

The study’s authors note that male millennial HBS grads aged 26-31 are a little more liberated in their ideas of gender roles than their older peers, with more than one third of Gen-Y men expect an “equal share,” – but this means two thirds don’t.

Whereas three quarters of Gen-Y women grads presume their careers to hold equal importance as their partners’ careers, and just 42 per cent expect to take on the majority of parenting responsibilities.

“In the end, we found not just achievement and satisfaction gaps between men and women, but a real gap between what women expect as they look ahead to their careers and where they ultimately land,” wrote the study’s authors.

“The men and women who graduate from HBS set out with much in common—MBAs, high ambitions, and preparation for leadership. Perhaps it’s time for more-candid conversations—at home, at work, and on campus—about how and why their paths unfold so differently.”

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