Women struggle to find a place amongst the C-suite positions in companies of all sizes and across all industries. In the United States, women account for less than ten percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, which is a staggering level of inequality.
While the fight for equality in upper-level management in any organization is ongoing, the reality of holding these positions often includes more than meets the eye. There are several hidden costs women face when promoting through any leadership structure.
Female leaders not only face challenges in assuming these roles, but they also face challenges outside of the office. In a recent study published in the American Economic Journal(January of 2020), women in CEO positions were twice as likely to experience divorce in the first three years of their promotion than men in the same roles.
The Traditional View of Marriage Roles
There may be several different reasons behind the divorce rate’s doubling for women who promote up the corporate ladder. One of the key factors in the higher divorce rate for female CEOs over their male counterparts is the traditional view of men and women’s roles in a relationship.
Traditionally and throughout our society as a whole, men take the role of movers and shakers, responsible for providing for the family and being the primary income earner. Marriage beliefs based on this notion are at odds with a woman who is the more powerful individual and the larger earner in the relationship.
Women Have Added Pressure
In turn, women often feel pressured to maintain their role as the primary caregiver to children and to take responsibility for the home, even though they are working long hours. This demand for time and energy is rare for men in the same position. Doubling of the roles and responsibilities between home and work creates additional stress in the marriage.
Long hours at work, the demands on a CEO’s attention and time, increased public visibility, and the pressure on the relationship all contribute to the higher rate of divorce. However, the single most significant factor is the couple’s inability to negotiate the change in the balance of power in the relationship.
In the American Economic Journal article, author Dr. Johanna Rickne found that couples closer in age with more egalitarian shared responsibilities as the relationship foundation were less likely to divorce after the wife accepts a promotion.
This is partially a change in the views on men and women’s roles in relationships, with younger people seeing more of a shared responsibility on income earning, caring for the children, and maintaining the home.
Discussing personal and professional goals is also seen as a way to assist in a positive shift in the balance of a relationship. The couple should set their own “couple goals” to create a shared sense of working together. This goal setting is relevant even if they have very different professional goals and expectations. The exercise is a factor for identifying potential problems in the relationship, providing the couple time to seek counseling, or determining if divorce is the best solution.
Being aware of the implications of promotions on marriage is essential. It does not mean that all women CEOs will divorce. It does mean that women in these positions face challenges and beliefs that are more than just work-related and extend to relationships and social norms.
Mardi Winder-Adams is a Divorce Coach, Credentialed Distinguished Mediator and a BCC Executive Coach. She has a background in management, education consulting, and professional training and is the founder of Positive Communication Systems, LLC.