Business begins to address needs of dual-career families

More help may be at hand for two-career families. The attitude of letting working couples struggle along alone, juggling the demands of jobs, homes, and families, as best they can, is giving over to a more positive and helpful approach.

Two recent surveys have identified and given public airing to some of the more pressing problems of husbands and wives who both go out to work. These efforts, in turn, are urging individuals and employers alike to get a new handle on finding solutions. There are now more than 25 million two-paycheck families in the labor force, and these outnumber traditional single-breadwinner households by 2 to 1.

One report, "Corporations and Two-Career Families: Directions for the Future, " was compiled by Catalyst, a New York-based resource center for professional women. It reviewed results of a survey it conducted of 374 top companies and 815 two-career couples. The term "career" in this study was defined as any "lifelong work characterized by strong commitment, personal growth, and increasing levels of responsibility." This meant that three-quarters of the wives and husbands surveyed agreed that their careers were of equal importance, and salary discrepancies in this group were much narrower than for the general population.

The chief concern of companies, it was learned, stems from the effect that career and family problems can have on recruitment, employee morale, productivity, and ultimately, company profits. The report reveals that a significant number of corporations are motivated enough by enlightened self-interest to offer some of the assistance that couples need and to at least test new corporate practices, such as providing on-site day-care centers and putting computer terminals in the homes of women who want to be with their infants.

So far, according to the report, what companies say they favor and what they actually practice is quite disparate. For instance 73 percent of companies said they favored flexible work hours, but only 37 percent have them. Thirty-five percent said they favored flexible work places, but only 8 percent provide them. Sixty-two percent favored cafeteria or a pick-and-choose approach to benefits, but only 8 percent offer them. And while 54 percent said they favored monetary support for child-care facilities, only 19 percent give it. And although 80 percent of the companies surveyed believe men increasingly feel the need to share parental responsibilities, almost none have paternal leaves.

"The corporate world cannot afford to have able women go home again," says Felice N. Schwartz, president of Catalyst. "So we must explore and develop new responses to the revolution that have taken place in the home and in the workplace in order that married women can pursue careers and have children, too.As women become increasingly valuable to business, companies must accept and practice different and more generous forms of personal leave for those who are parents." Most women in the survey, she says, returned to work within four months of having their children in order to avoid an extended leave that could jeopardize their careers. Relocation a major concern

The major problem confronting corporations, according to the data, is relocation. Two-thirds of the corporate respondents experience resistance to relocating, not for economic reasons (as they had assumed) but because it interferes with the career of a spouse. Ninety percent of the wives and husbands surveyed thought companies, should help the spouses of relocating employees, especially through contacts with other companies and job counseling. Only four percent of corporations surveyed had a policy of assisting spouses of relocating employees, though 29 percent said that they would help at the request of the employee.

Catalyst suggests that corporations could build understanding by collecting data on two-career families and on all the issues that concern them. This center, at 14 East 60th Street in New York, is geared to help the corporate community create an environment in which young men and women can have families free from some of the challenges that could affect both their productivity at work and their capacity to care for their children.

Although women still carry the primary responsibility for home and child care , according to the data, Catalyst observes a generational evolution taking place as couples in their 20s and 30s increasingly share household and parenting responsibilities. 'Too much to do: too little time'

The two biggest problem areas, according to the husbands and wives surveyed, concerned money and the allocation of time. Couples said they chose the two-career life style for the advantage of "more money," but also because it "provided autonomy and growth to both partners."

Wives reported that their greatest burden was having too much to do and too little time to do it in. Husbands declared that "not enough time to be together with their wives and children" was the major disadvantage for them. One executive said that although his company knew his wife worked at that he had a family, he could detect no lessening of the pressures and strenuous demands of the job. Some willing to commute

Another study of 440 female executives conducted by Boyden/Management Woman, a women's executive recruiting firm headquartered in Greenwich, Conn., revealed that, whereas many executives appear increasingly reluctant to relocate, some married women managers indicate that a career move that greatly enhances their progress could even be worth a long distance commute to their husbands.

The married women willing to relocate generally share a career philosophy with their husbands that acknowledges the importance that moving, for either partner, plays in their progress and success. Most of these women, a minority group to be sure, agreed that their spouses would be willing to accompany them in a relocation that favors the women's career. But with characteristic confidence, they also didn't think their advancement would be impeded if they followed their husbands.

One respondent probably summed it up when she commented, "My spouse and I agree that the ability to relocate for either of us depends on where the other is in their career. I would consider a temporary separation or commute, if necessary. It is becoming unrealistic for a two-career family not to have to do that at some point in their careers."

Women who are the most willing to relocate because of promotions or accepting new positions, the survey finds, are single and earning between $25,000 and $45, 000 a year. They are usually enthusiastic about the prospects of the change.

The woman executive, the survey revealed, who is opposed to relocation is more than likely married. Family considerations and a preference for her present geography take precedence over any potential benefits of a move. She frequently has school, civic, and professional commitments and wants to continue to benefit from the perquisites and attractive benefits she has already accrued in her job. Two career philosophies

Janet Jones-Parker, chairman of Boyden/Management Woman, says she has helped recruit thousands of women for positions ranging from middle management to chief executive officers and directors of companies. The study made by her company leads her to believe that there is a small but growing group of American women who share traditional corporate values and are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get senior management responsibility.

So two distinct career philosophies now exist, she says. In one category, neither partner would accept a promotion or a new job that involves a geographical change that is unacceptable to the other. In the second category are those couples who place their individual careers above the relationship. If either partner was offered a good relocation apportunity, he or she would accept it, and the other partner could come along or stay put, as seemed best.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.