Women have more freedom, power, and control over their lives in the West than any group of women ever, before. Women today have more wealth, freedom, comfort, and stability than any other group of women before. And yet, still they rarely occupy the highest rungs of power, being absent from political leadership, commercial leadership, and cultural leadership. A Black man was elected President of the US before a woman. Why?
Because women won’t sacrifice the … sexiness in men. And no sexy, dominant Alpha male will put up with a woman having a career and power greater than his. That’s why they are Alpha males in the first place. For a woman to advance to the top, she has to be … Margaret Thatcher. Or Leslie Blodgett of Bare Escentuals. Or Carly Fiorina of H-P. Married to a “boring” beta male who is supportive and stays out of the spotlight.
Lucy Kellaway at the Financial Times was the first to make this clear:
The biggest reason that alpha women don’t become CEOs is that they have made the common, yet fatal, error of marrying an alpha man.
My evidence for this is based on long observation of the women I know. Some of them did brilliantly for a bit, but then their careers stalled. The problem was not that they had had too many children (successful women seem to have lots of them) but that their alpha husbands insisted on putting their own careers first.
Until last week this was just a vague prejudice. But on Wednesday I sat down with the FT’s list of the 50 top business women and Googled each one, searching for information about their home lives. Annoyingly, some of them have succeeded in keeping their private lives private, but with the rest I found my theory spectacularly well borne out. Nearly all have children, but I could not find a single one with an alpha male husband.
The only whiff of an alpha mate came from the household of Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon, whose husband was the CEO of Bloomingdale’s. I use the past tense not because he lost the job, but because he lost his wife – the marriage didn’t last.
Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi and the world’s most powerful businesswoman, is married to a man who quit his job and became a consultant to fit in with his wife and children. Ditto with Irene Rosenfeld at Kraft, whose husband decided to be self-employed 20 years ago to help her. Ditto with Ursula Burns at Xerox.
There are three pretty obvious reasons an alpha husband is a problem for the aspiring female CEO. First is logistics. If you want to be really successful you need to be mobile. You need to have a husband like Gregg Ahrendts, who wound up his construction business so Angela could move to London to be CEO of Burberry. You also need to have someone who is prepared to see the children occasionally. And above all you need a bit of encouragement. If you have spent all day competing with men at work, you don’t want to go on competing at home. You want someone like Lloyd Bean, Ursula Burns’s husband, who worked at Xerox long before she joined, but who claimed delight when his wife whizzed past him in the fast lane. Or like the husband of the Indian banking supremo Chanda Kochhar. She says he is “genuinely happy about my progress”.
The lesson for a future female corporate queen is to give more thought to her choice of spouse. She should go for someone who is mentally her match, but who is happy to play a supporting role. In other words, Mr Right should be a male Kate Middleton.
Alas, there is a problem here in both demand and supply. High-flying women are programmed to go for high-flying men. Most men aren’t attracted to women who are more successful than they are. And until those things change, there is not going to be more than the odd sprinkling of women emerging from the sticky yellow marzipan into the glorious royal icing on top.
As Business Week noted:
When Carly Fiorina became Hewlett-Packard’s (HPQ) first female chief executive officer, the existence of her househusband, Frank Fiorina, who had retired early from AT&T (T) to support her career, was a mini-sensation; now this arrangement isn’t at all unusual. Seven of the 18 women who are currently CEOs of Fortune 500 companies—including Xerox’s (XRX) Ursula Burns, PepsiCo’s (PEP) Indra Nooyi, and WellPoint’s (WLP) Angela Braly—have, or at some point have had, a stay-at-home husband. So do scores of female CEOs of smaller companies and women in other senior executive jobs. Others, like IBM’s (IBM) new CEO, Ginni Rometty, have spouses who dialed back their careers to become their powerful wives’ chief domestic officers.
This role reversal is occurring more and more as women edge past men at work. Women now fill a majority of jobs in the U.S., including 51.4 percent of managerial and professional positions, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Some 23 percent of wives now out-earn their husbands, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center. And this earnings trend is more dramatic among younger people. Women 30 and under make more money, on average, than their male counterparts in all but three of the largest cities in the U.S.
However, for most women, that trade-off, a supportive house-husband screams “Kitchen Bitch” and thus, poison. Most women would rather their husbands be high-flyers, than themselves. Because their reflection of self-worth is based on their sexual marketplace value (sad but true for most women, sad because that is so transient like a flower), and their sexual marketplace value is based around how much of a dominant, sexy Alpha asshole they can land.
Women don’t go further in politics because they are unwilling to marry Denis Thatcher. An amiable businessman who kept his mouth shut and loyally supported his wife. They have fantasies of being Hillary Clinton, who did not sacrifice the Alpha Asshole Male, and still got to be a Senator and Secretary of State. [This is why many women love Hillary — she got the Alpha Asshole, and the power, at least in part.]
Men who rise, mostly do so by either blind luck and opportunity, plus “seize the day” aggression and vision (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg), or grind-it-out steady rises like say, Howard Schultz generally require a supportive spouse. Business and politics are high-stress careers, and supportive advice and comfort are generally a requirement for those grinding it out, a decade at a time, to rise to the top. This is true for both men and women.
Men, more than women, tend to realize this and trade off on Alpha sexiness. This is particularly true when men are younger and less powerful, and thus less attractive to women, they will often settle and marry the best woman they can get. Sticking with her for the most part means no costly divorces, no emotional upheaval, and the perception of stability and sensibility, that boards of directors prefer. No one wants say, a Mark Hurd. A guy who is a walking lawsuit machine.
Women on the other hand, feel that settling is both a betrayal of their natures, and a slur on their very person. Saying basically that they are so ugly and unsexy that the best they can do is some “supportive” aka “kitchen bitch” beta male instead of the sexy bad boy Alpha asshole they crave.
Thus women are trading off opportunity for sex. This is entirely predictable, since eggs are expensive, and sperm cheap, women generally prefer less perceived risk and men more, comparatively speaking. Women will trade off the opportunity to become a top leader, for sexy times, most of the time.
It is the unwillingness to trade away those sexy times, in favor of beta male “kitchen bitch” supportiveness, that keeps women from occupying half or more of the CEO suites, upper reaches of political leadership, and the cultural power centers (such as directing, producing, and so on). Rising up that way requires generally guys women just can’t stomach.
The goal of feminists is to have it all — the sexy bad boys AND the power. Like most fantasies, too much of it tends to be destructive. Because real problems are never solved by ghost-dancing fantasies and fairy tales.