House husbandry and Cynthia Carroll

I said in my previous blog that in discussing the waste of female talent we should not focus all our attention on women at the top. And here I am immediately taking up the example of Cynthia Carroll, the CEO of Anglo-American who has just resigned. she is about as exceptional as it gets: not only CEO of a major FTSE company, but one in a sector notoriously male-dominated and (I imagine) macho in outlook at board level as well as (more reasonably) down the mines.

So why comment on this? A journalist called me just now for a comment on the CC affair since he’d seen something from me about women and careers, and I told him I really didn’t have anything relevant to say. But there’s an aspect of it which chimed directly with a recent conversation I’d had with a friend. I explained the Paula Principle to him, and how one central plank of the agenda is a different distribution of work and other time for men as well as women. “Ah” he said, “you mean men becoming househusbands.”

Cynthia Carroll’s husband left his job after their third child was born ( they now have four) to take on primary responsibility for the children. Since Ms Carroll was also chairman of the diamond company De Beers as well as head of A-A, they could presumably get by on one salary, and get help too (which is not ot denigrate her husband’s decision). But the point I’m finally getting to is that we should not automatically assume that men changing their work patterns to something nearer what many woman have means that they are expected to give up work and become full-time househusbands. These maybe attract more media profiles; but the bigger shift will surely be to more men working part-time (whatever that means in terms of actual hours worked), not giving up paid work altogether.

I don’t think my friend’s reaction was untypical. Househusbandry is fine (and these days carries more kudos than housewifery), but it shouldn’t figure as the most likely outcome of a different mix of worktime, which would allow both women and men to use their competences fully.

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