Have you ever stopped to think about how many of your female staff are the main breadwinner in their home? Perhaps you think that it’s none of your business, or doesn’t make a difference.

Well it’s time you started noticing. Why? Because in the UK around a third of women in relationships are the main earners in their home, according to an IPPR think tank. This is a whopping rise of 80% over the last 15 years and it shows no sign of slowing down.

What is a female breadwinner?

  • A woman who is in a dual income relationship that earns more than her partner
  • A woman in a relationship where she is the only earner in her family
  • A woman who is the single parent

Female Breadwinners still do the lionesses’ share of the housework and caring

The Facts: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 83% of US women do housework every day in comparison to only 65% of US men, even when the woman is the main earner. Women often feel pressure to be a domestic goddess and as a result feel torn between family commitments such as elderly relatives and young children. 

Advice: Employers that provide flexible working options so that women breadwinners can balance their commitments more effectively are more likely to retain them.  Allowing a female breadwinner to work from home can really help her use her time more effectively rather than spending it on the daily commute.  In addition reconsidering scheduling meetings during unsociable hours, or school drop off and pick up times and employing technology, instead of travelling can help. Support mechanisms such as emergency childcare provision for staff can form a safety net, so that they can focus on work without worry.

Female Breadwinners often take on the household Money Management

The Facts: Torabi’s research suggests that as a natural progression of being the main earner women often also hold the purse strings. This can cause tension in their relationship, as money is often associated with power, but from an employers point of view it also also makes them financially astute.  

Advice: Don’t underestimate your female staff’s ability to manage complex budgets; even if this hasn’t been encompassed in their previous roles, they may have been successful at it for some time. When interviewing, encourage them to look beyond the workplace for examples if necessary.

Female Breadwinners take their career seriously

The Facts: Think about the drive and determination that male breadwinners have in the workplace, you could attribute it to nature, but perhaps some of the drive was a need to provide for their families.  This is not different for female breadwinners, who are typically ambitious and striving to keep a roof over their heads and make their family as comfortable as possible. They take their career incredibly seriously.

Advice: If you don’t offer your female breadwinner staff opportunities they’ll go elsewhere, they don’t have the luxury of becoming cozy and settled, they need to be recognized for their worth because their family security depends on it. Sometimes female breadwinners tell their employers their situation. Why? Because then they know that they are serious and not just there for pin money.  They can also outline their intentions for promotion and career development.

There is a huge opportunity for organisations to nurture this growing group of women who have to take their career seriously and lean in. Here are some tips:

Tips for Organisations:

  • Don’t make assumptions about family situations or women’s reasons for working based on your life situation
  • Address your gender pay gap, you could be penalising a family because the woman is the main earner and it’s just not fair
  • Provide flexibility, try not to penalise any group for family responsibilities
  • Highlight diverse role models in your organization and encourage them to share their story
  • Offer support such as Coaching that is not just focused on work but the challenges that may be occurring in relationships as a result of the woman being the breadwinner.

Tips to share with the Female Breadwinners in your organisation:

  • Tell your boss, if you feel it’s appropriate. This will minimize any incorrect assumptions they have about your ambitions and life situation
  • Try and get some flexibility in your role, so you can have time for caring responsibilities and home making if that’s what you want
  • Delegate at home and work as much as is possible, realistic and fair
  • You will have Work Time and Home Time, but what about ME time. Schedule it in to be more effective in all aspects of your life
  • Let the organisation know all of your skills that you might be using at home or in the community, so that they can value the full picture of what you bring to the organization
  • Get a Coach to support you holistically to juggle Work & Life

Women who are not the breadwinner are not to be forgotten and can have many similar challenges and ambitions to female breadwinners, but breadwinning really does add an additional dimension of responsibility, emotion and relationship challenges.  

Whatever the reason why the woman is the breadwinner, organisations can play a part in helping it work for them.

You may already have a programme for progressing gender inclusion, I’d like to encourage you to think of female breadwinning as an additional aspect to become more aware of. Women Breadwinners could be just the untapped potential that you’ve been looking for.

Jenny Garrett is the Award Winning Coach and founder of Reflexion Associates, a leadership and coaching consultancy. She’s also the author of Rocking Your Role, a how-to guide to success for female breadwinners.