Dual Career Couples
Don’t have to duel with it comes to their careers.
My husband and I have emerged from the dual career couple “rush hour years” gratefully intact. The rush hour years is an apt term I read in a McKinsey report on how dual career couples find career fulfillment. Today there are even more couples seeking to balance their work and home life. According to a recent study from EY that explored work-life challenges across generations they found that 78% of millennials in the US are dual career couples (DCC) compared to 47% for baby boomers.
Since I launched Gotara, I’ve been thinking about how my husband and I both managed graduate school, first jobs, raising our daughter and balancing our career goals because it’s a challenge many members on our platform are experiencing.
In the academic world, it’s called the “two-body problem,” a physics term for the gravitational field created by two celestial bodies. It’s the perfect metaphor for the push and pull that happens when dual career couples vie for roles at the same university. But it’s also an apt description for STEM DCCs outside of academia who also struggle to find opportunities that don’t involve one partner always making a sacrifice.
Data suggest that women continue to disproportionately leave that metaphorical “gravitational field” to sacrifice their ambitions for their partners. Women in Physics and Astronomy conducted a global survey of physicists and found that women were 346% more likely to decline a job for a spouse, 400% more likely to take a career break for family reasons; 463% more likely to become the stay-at-home parent and 111% more likely to choose a less demanding or more flexible schedule.
Are we truly outliers in the DCC world? I am sure many of you are like us. We are that data point that offers a different view on the matter. It’s a perspective that I hope gives dual career couples some insightful strategies for how they can balance their DCC lives and come out ahead together.
This week we posted a story about one of our members who was struggling after she moved to a new city when her partner landed a great job. She said Gotara was her “lifeline,” as we helped her get her STEM career back on track with our nano-learning advice sessions. I would love to hear your stories and approaches as well.
Here are the 6 strategies I recommend to our Gotara members who are dual career couples to help them stay and thrive in their STEM careers
1. Choose your partner wisely. It was always clear to me that I not only wanted a partner who was bright and had a good sense of humor but I also wanted my partner to be a good listener, as well as curious, adaptable, willing to negotiate and make decisions jointly. If you notice early on that your potential mate is showing signs of rigidity or has issues around power, or is envious of your achievements, I’d reconsider that relationship! To be a successful DCC, you need to be a team and genuinely have each other’s interests at heart. If you both have career ambitions, don’t get into career hierarchy battles—where someone’s career automatically takes precedence. I wasn’t looking for my partner to give in, but I wanted to have an equal say—whether that’s on where we’re going to dinner, where we’re going to live—or even the positions we might accept.
2. Communicate and be open to having tough conversations with your partner and/or family. Know what you want—whether that’s the university you want to go to or where you want to work. When I came to the United States from India, my family wanted me to go to Boston University because we had friends in the area. My partner—and now husband—was studying at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. After a year, I left Boston to join him. I wanted to be with my partner, and it was a better school. As we grew in our careers, there were many times where we had to be frank about how we felt. We both made sacrifices, but they were made as a team.
3. Coordination is everything. My husband and I synced up our calendars so that before we agreed to any work-related travel or assignments, we knew if someone would be home with our daughter.
4. Share the household and childcare responsibilities. In a 2019 Future of Work in America report from McKinsey, they found that women in senior leadership positions who have male partners are five times more likely than their partners to do all or most of the household work. That wasn’t happening in my house! We either shared the tasks or hired staff to handle the chores. When it came to caring for our daughter, it was a 50:50 split. I still remember showing up to a conference, and a male colleague asked me who was looking after my daughter, and he was surprised when I said, ‘My husband.’ I told him that she was 50% of him and that together we were raising our daughter and that she needed both of us equally.
5. Compromise isn’t always a career deal-breaker—in fact, it could lead to unexpected opportunities.
When we were both done with our graduate work, we had multiple job offers, but they were all in different cities–except for one company. It wasn’t our first pick, but we chose that company so we could be together. It was hard because I turned down some wonderful offers, including one at GE. Five years later, I interviewed again at GE, and this time when they offered me a job, I took it. My husband quit his job, and we moved. He landed a position that wasn’t the best fit; however, it was the best thing that could have happened to him. At night he taught himself how to code. He said it was his hobby, but he went on to code the basic foundation of what became his company today. I had a similar unexpected benefit when I didn’t take a promotion because it would have meant a lot of travel, and my daughter was too young. It wasn’t a setback, however. In four years, I went on to write two books and was awarded 26 patents. It was one of the most productive periods in my career as a scientist. You can think you’re taking a backseat in your career at different times, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Success can be defined in many ways.
6. Choose your company/institution wisely. We chose to work for companies that offered the flexibility we needed in terms of location, work travel and even the kinds of assignments we were ready to take on at different points in our careers, especially when our daughter was young. We benefited from this flexibility, and so did the companies we worked for, as we were productive and committed to helping the companies achieve their goals.
I would love to hear your stories and the approaches you have taken to succeed.
Gotara offers “just-in-time” and “in-depth” confidential and personalized advice/learnings from senior women in STEM+. Our career growth focused Star Programs help employers retain and grow women in STEM+ www.gotara.com
Founder and CEO of Gotara
The STEM career growth platform was launched by D. Sangeeta, who is a woman in STEM with 26+ years of experience. She has a PhD in Materials Sciences and has worked at GE Aviation, Nielsen and Amazon. She launched Gotara because she understands what it’s like to be an immigrant, a woman and a woman of colour and the challenges that come with that in the STEM world. A mentor helped her at a critical time in her career and that’s behind her passion to build a scalable advice platform that democratizes access to career-changing advice.