As Husbands Do Domestic Duty, These Women Are Free to Achieve
Marielle Jan de Beur often catches the 6:27 a.m. train to Grand Central Terminal, waiting on the Westchester platform with a swarm of dark-suited men, and then walks 10 blocks to a Park Avenue office fronted by the fountain where Audrey Hepburn cavorted in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” playing a woman scheming to marry a wealthy man.
But when the elevator lets her off at Wells Fargo, she enters another zone, where the gender dynamic that has long underpinned the financial industry is quietly being challenged. Ms. Jan de Beur and some of her colleagues rely on support that growing numbers of women on Wall Street say is enabling them to compete with new intensity: a stay-at-home husband.
In an industry still dominated by men with only a smattering of women in its highest ranks, these bankers make up a small but rapidly expanding group, benefiting from what they call a direct link between their ability to achieve and their husbands’ willingness to handle domestic duties. The number of women in finance with stay-at-home spouses has climbed nearly tenfold since 1980, according to an analysis of census data, and some of the most successful women in the field are among them.
When Ms. Jan de Beur flew to Hong Kong last spring to persuade Asian investors to re-enter the bond market, her husband took their daughter to try on confirmation dresses. Her colleagues Allison Poliniak and Gina Martin Adams share a running commentary on their husbands’ efforts in the kitchen. Nicole Black recently texted her husband, Drew Skinner, as she headed home after a long day of earnings calls. “You want to hit the gym? Go for it,” he replied, agreeing to spend another hour with their two small sons.
“While I was dating Drew and getting married and having kids, I’ve gone from vice president to director to managing director,” Ms. Black said.
These marriages are Wall Street-specific experiments in money, work, family and power. In interviews, dozens of couples provided field notes on their findings.
Many discovered that even with babysitting and household help, the demands of working in finance made a two-career marriage impossible. The arrangement can be socially isolating, they said, leaving both partners out of a child-rearing world still full of “Mommy and Me” classes. The couples told of new questions of marital etiquette, like who makes the big financial decisions or buys the wife’s jewelry when she makes upward of a million dollars a year and the husband earns little or nothing.
It is not clear, however, if these couples are leaders in the march toward gender equality or examples of how little is shifting on Wall Street. The banks say they want to hire and retain more women.
But the solution that turns out to work so well for these women is an inaccessible option for many others, since it requires one spouse to give up a career and the other to earn enough money to support the family. Rather than changing the culture of the banks, which promote policies on flexible hours and work life balance, these women say that to succeed they must give in to its sometimes brutal terms, from 4:45 a.m. wake-ups onward through days of ceaseless competition.
Along the way, the couples have come to question just what is male behavior and female behavior, noting how quickly their preconceived notions dissolve once they depart from assigned roles. The men echo generations of housewives, voicing concern over a loss of earning power and car pool-induced torpor but also pride in their nurturing roles. The women describe themselves as competitive, tough and proud of every dollar they bring in.
“We’re almost like an opposite ’50s couple,” said Mr. Skinner, Nicole Black’s husband. “I’m staying at home, I do the dishes, I do the laundry, I do everything the housewife does. I’m just a dude.”
Not every marriage proceeds as smoothly. One female banker told colleagues that she recently became irritated with her husband, who works part time, telling him, “I wish I had a wife.”
“You can get one when I can get one,” he replied.
Rye, N.Y., is not an obvious place to mount a stand against established social roles. The town, on the moneyed coast of Long Island Sound, has long been populated by bankers, including John J. Mack, the former chief executive of Morgan Stanley. The clubs at the end of Stuyvesant Avenue have dress codes and sports like lawn bowling, and despite high property taxes, the town has no school buses, a special torture for working parents.
But even Rye has a set of bankers with stay-at-home husbands, among them Ms. Jan de Beur, an executive in Wells Fargo’s research department, and her architect-turned-artist husband, Jim Langley.
When they married 13 years ago, some of Ms. Jan de Beur’s male colleagues scoffed, suggesting that she would become useless in the workplace. Marriage turned out to be one of her better career moves. By the time she became pregnant, her husband was working extremely long hours for an architecture firm that was pressuring him to relocate, and he made less than half of what she did. The solution seemed obvious.
Ten years later, the life they have put together feels comfortable and well ordered: two bright, talkative children, 10 and 7 years old; a white-clapboard house that feels more cozy than imposing; and time in a sunny third-floor studio for Mr. Langley, who keeps books of work by Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer on his shelves. He has moments of wonder with his children, like playing kickball during a summer rainfall and making anatomical sculptures from tree branches.
In interviews, Ms. Jan de Beur, driven and precise, praised her husband’s nurturing skills. Mr. Langley sounded proud if a bit taken aback by his wife’s success. “I’m aware of how lucky I am,” he said.
Still, his wife, along with other women in the same situation, suspects that the arrangement is harder on the men. Some of Mr. Langley’s peers say the chatter at backyard gatherings about bonuses can make them wince: If a half-million-dollar salary is considered unimpressive in some Wall Street circles, where does that leave them?
When people ask what he does, Mr. Langley could say artist — he gives the buildings and landscapes he paints expressive personalities of their own — but he has just begun trying to sell his work. Other fathers in similar situations say they often tell white lies: They are retired, they are consultants, they work at home.
Mr. Langley generally goes with “stay-at-home dad.”
“That’s what I call myself,” he said over lunch at a restaurant in Rye, the other tables filled with groups of women. “I wouldn’t say I like it.”
What response does he get?
“There’s usually a long pause,” he said.
Half a century ago, Betty Friedan wrote “The Feminine Mystique” not far from where some of the female bankers live today. Even though their husbands have had far different experiences and options than Ms. Friedan’s frustrated 1960s housewives, they sometimes express similar sentiments.
Some wonder what has come of their education, confess that they do not know how to make their way back to work after what they had hoped would be a temporary break, or admit that they do not quite understand their wives’ work. Others have turned themselves into eager helpmates, booking their spouses’ massages and mastering complicated cooking techniques.
But many of the wives say their husbands approach parenthood differently than women do. The stay-at-home mothers in Rye often congregate at spinning or yoga classes, but their male counterparts all seem to have a hobby involving a boat: sailing, building wood kayaks and, in Mr. Langley’s case, depicting fishing dinghies and half-finished hulls in his paintings. Despite their wealth, the men seem largely resistant to relying on nannies and babysitters, facing down screaming toddlers and constant meal preparation with go-it-alone stoicism.
Brandee McHale, a managing director of Citigroup’s charitable foundation, says her husband, a former Marine, does not multitask, noting that for him, “Laundry is an activity.” But she also appreciates that he will focus just as intently on tossing a football with their children.
A few women said that they resented the fact that their husbands did not cook or clean up, but that they had trouble telling them so, for fear that they would sound as if they were treating them like employees.
When Kristine Braden, also of Citigroup, was stationed in the Philippines, she knew that her husband was never going to devote himself to hosting parties for her clients or setting a perfect table, the way some wives of male bankers did. (The couple entertained at restaurants or at home together on weekends.) Few of the men are willing to take on corporate spouse duties, like attending or hosting Wall Street dinners with the alpha men who work at the banks.
The husbands often feel excluded from the social infrastructure that women have built up over generations to make stay-at-home life more manageable and fun. (“You want awkward? Try a swim play date,” one father said.) Every man interviewed said that many school notices, invitations and Girl Scout troop updates were still sent to their wives, a river they are constantly trying to divert.
When Ed Fassler, married to Marcie Fassler, a vice president of operations at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh, was helping out with a school wrapping paper sale, the mothers gathered to go over the order — and excluded him. “My husband wouldn’t be happy if you’re in my house with us,” the organizer told him.
In March, Mr. Langley is renting space to mount a show of his paintings, and his home studio is cluttered with canvases and taped-together snapshots of the local landscape. In a test run in September, he offered two paintings for sale at an art auction in town. It was a community charity event, the buyers friends from the neighborhood. When both pieces sold, the larger fetching $1,400, husband and wife both felt relief.
In search of remedies, four of JP Morgan Chase’s top women decided to fan out across the country last summer to find out why too many women at the nation’s largest bank, and across the industry, still seemed somewhat stuck in their ascent.
For years, JP Morgan and other banks have tried recruitment and retention efforts aimed at women, including “speed mentoring” (Wells Fargo), wine tastings to get to know management (Morgan Stanley), efforts at hiring women who had taken time off to raise children (Goldman Sachs) and clubs for female bankers (Citigroup alone has 60).
When Diane Schumaker-Krieg, Ms. Black’s and Ms. Jan de Beur’s boss, worked at Credit Suisse years ago, the chief executive at the time, Mr. Mack, even flew her and other promising women to his home for a golf tutorial to help them network on the greens.
Still, women make up just 16 percent of bank executives, according to the consulting firm Catalyst, and only a tiny number run the huge revenue-generating businesses like investment banking and trading, barely a change from a generation before.
In their meetings with 2,500 women at seven JP Morgan offices, the four executives — including Mary Callahan Erdoes, the chief executive of the bank’s asset management division, and Marianne Lake, the chief financial officer — heard the same messages again and again.
Flex time allowing employees to work from home one or more days a week carried stigma, the women felt. Some said they were reluctant to chase promotions that could require moves upending their families. Many female bankers still quit after having children.
One morning last month, around the time Ms. Lake was departing for a similar round of meetings in Asia, Ms. Black arrived at her cluttered desk at Wells Fargo’s office in Charlotte, N.C., and slid on her headset to hear the latest Viacom earnings.
She tapped out a message for institutional investors, dropped in on a morning meeting to brief salespeople and traders, wrote a memo to clients about why she was downgrading Cisco’s debt, and gave a talk to the sales force on a new bond, all before the clock struck 9:30. During that sprint, she was focused entirely on her work.
Ms. Black and others say that is the real gift of a stay-at-home spouse: avoiding domestic distractions and competing better against other bankers, many of them men with stay-at-home wives.
If Ms. Black gets a call on Tuesday afternoon asking her to attend an out-of-town dinner the next night, she can go. Ms. Jan de Beur took two trips a week on average last spring. Candida P. Wolff, the head of global government affairs for Citigroup, often travels about one and a half weeks each month.
Being the breadwinner often means being taken more seriously in the workplace, they have learned. When one former banker was interviewing at a private equity firm, she said her prospective employers wanted to know what her husband did and seemed pleased that he had a low-paying but flexible job and handled more parenting duties. It dawned on her that the presumption men had often benefited from — that they would not be diverted by household demands — was finally applying to her too.
On the home front, the women cast the deciding votes on major financial decisions. “It’s not like when you and I were growing up and Dad made all the decisions, but I still control the purse strings,” Ms. Black said.
At Wells Fargo’s modernist tower on Park Avenue, Ms. Schumaker-Krieg, the global head of research, economics and strategy for the bank, is making new recommendations on how to retain and advance female employees. She has spent decades persuading women on her team not to quit, even when they are put on bed rest during pregnancy or give birth to a child with special needs. And she would like others in the industry to follow suit.
She acknowledges that part of the problem is the fundamental nature of the business: the ceaseless race to score the big deals and anticipate market moves. Soon she will complete year-end tallies, ranking the research analysts, including Ms. Black and Ms. Jan de Beur, against their competitors and each other.
Some of the women with stay-at-home husbands are her top performers. When she calls those men “the wind beneath our wings,” she sounds both kind and calculating; the more domestic responsibility the men are willing to assume, the more their wives can help the bank make money.
“It’s easy to slide into irrelevance by backing off just a little,” she warned.