Bringing home the bacon
Jenny Garrett grew up with the Wonderwoman ideal. “She was strong, feminine and had a secret identity that no-one knew about,” she says.
That could describe the one fifth of UK women who are the main breadwinners in their families, she says. She feels the subject is a big taboo and wants to bring it out into the open so women can feel proud of their achievements.
Jenny, a leadership coach and mentor, has just published a book, Rocking Your Role, which is described as “a how to guide to success for female breadwinners”.
She says: “Often women feel ashamed and hide the fact that they are the main earner which means we don't get to learn from their experience. If we want to change this we need to be more open about it and be proud of it.”
Jenny became interested in writing about female breadwinners when she came across some research about them and felt “this is me, someone has named me”. As a coach, she also found women were coming to her and saying that it was an issue for them and that they couldn't talk openly about it.
“I didn't plan to write a book about it,” she says. “I wanted to research it further and I asked my clients and women through the internet and my networks if they wanted to be interviewed. I had too much material for an article so I wrote the book.”
Part of the taboo around talking about being a main earner, she says, is not wanting to injure a male partner's ego and another part is the result of social expectations on both women and men. “Women don't want to appear boastful or arrogant by talking about how much they earn,” she says. She says one woman in her book had been the main earner for 20 years, but her family were reluctant to admit her husband was a stay-at-home dad. “They treated it as a temporary situation. Basically everyone was in denial. It was not just the partner,” says Jenny.
She adds that some men find it isolating and intimidating being a stay-at-home dad in a world which is still mainly populated by women.
She feels the term breadwinner fits a typical masculine stereotype of someone who just 'brings home the bacon'. “Women do so much more than be the breadwinner,” she says. “They look after the family and the home. We still lack the language to describe what these women do.
Jenny, who is herself a female breadwinner, stresses that her book is not about saying that women should be the main earners. She feels everyone should choose how they want to bring up their family and she says that even if you don't have a choice about whether you are the main earner or not you do have a choice about the attitude you approach your situation with.
Her tips for keeping on top of all the roles involved in being a breadwinner include being positive and not being a martyr and thinking you have to do it all. “Get rid of the cape,” she says. “You shouldn't do it all. Get as much support as you can.”
She also emphasises the importance of communication with your family about the choices you have made and with your partner. “I made mistakes. I felt that since I was earning more I had the power and I lost track of how my husband felt. You need to have conversations about money. Otherwise it's the elephant in the room that no-one deals with,” she says.
One of the big issues for female breadwinners, she adds, is guilt over the amount of time they are spending at work. She says women shouldn't assume, though, that being around all the time is the best thing for their children. “It's about quality time not quantity,” says Jenny.
One of the women in her book used to work from home and had the children around her all the time, but was never focused on them. She now works away from home a lot, but when she is with the children all her attention is on them.
Her last tip for female breadwinners is to look after themselves both mentally and physically. “Everyone suffers when you aren't well,” she says. “In a way not looking after yourself is selfish.”
And she is quick to admit that it can be hard going keeping all the balls in the air. “It's not all like some sort of advert where everyone is on roller skates,” she says. “You may often have periods when you want to take six months off. But then you go to work and realise you would be really bored if you did. A lot of my self esteem and joy and a lot of what makes me me comes from my work.”
*Rocking my role is published by Ecademy Press, price £12.99.