Supporting Dual Career Couples in the Age of COVID-19

Globally, the number of dual career couples — defined as “couples (with or without children) where both partners pursue a professional career” — has significantly increased. Generation by generation, more people are stepping away from the traditional “breadwinner” lifestyle as 78% of Millennials, 73% of Generation X, and 47% of Boomers in the US identify as being in a dual career couple. However, with this change comes a new set of challenges. Described in Supporting Dual Career Couples: An Equity Fluent Leadership Playbook by the Center for Gender, Equity, and Leadership (EGAL):

“While partners are becoming more egalitarian, women in heterosexual dual career couples…still do most of the household/care work and are more willing to prioritize their partner’s career over their own. On top of this, workplaces have been built on a breadwinner format that makes ‘having it all’ a myth for the vast majority of women, in particular. Furthermore, all individuals in dual career couples may experience stress, conflict and time constraints resulting from managing both work and life/family responsibilities, which can be exacerbated by jobs that require travel, temporary relocation and/or permanent relocation. Employees in dual career couples are not a homogenous group so it is key to understand challenges and inclusive solutions for employees of different identities — including gender, sexual orientation, disability status, race, ethnicity and socio-economic status.”

With the unprecedented challenges COVID-19 presents, dual career couples (particularly women) face heightened difficulties. In a recent webinar hosted by EGAL and 100 Women in Finance, Genevieve Smith, Associate Director of EGAL, outlined the impacts of COVID-19 on dual career couples and actions that business leaders and managers can take to support dual career couples, building on EGAL’s work and original playbook.

Mental health is extremely important. Now that it is being discussed more openly, companies can take the initiative to help de-stigmatize it. When the COVID-19 pandemic passes, avenues to support mental health should still be provided so employees continue to have more resources.

At BCG, Brian highlighted that many employees are opening up about mental health, and as a result the company is able to take the initiative to help its workers. For example, before COVID-19 the company had already supported employees using meditation apps, but now they actively engage empathetically with their employees, increasing workforce flexibility, sharing techniques to create a better work-life balance, clearing out Friday afternoon workloads, and more.

Awareness surrounding different privileges that exist is heightened during COVID-19, so companies are learning how to take better care of the unique needs of different employees.

All three panelists agreed that company cultures have shifted in a more empathetic and understanding direction. They understand that it is a privilege for people to be able to relocate their workspace into their home, have remote jobs, and maintain stability. Not everyone is in the same situation and able to make a smooth transition. The companies have tried their best not to lay off any employees, take care of employee finances, create new remote roles, and even create an opt-in option for those who cannot work at home so that they can come into a location and work in a space they feel comfortable in. It is still difficult creating roles for those who have on-site only jobs, however they are doing their best to retain all workers while providing the unique support needed.

Lastly, A tip for working at home is to lean in and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

The biggest tip the speakers recommended is to not be afraid to reach out for help during this time of need. Many employees may feel the need to take on everything without realizing that their company will support them. This causes unnecessary pressure and stress which is detrimental, not only to said employees but to the companies as well. Whether it be work related or family related issues, it is important that everyone gets through this together. Reaching out for help and stating your needs will help others help you.

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.

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