Sunday 20 October 2019

Brenda Trenowden: 'Every successful woman needs a husband just like Theresa May's'

Theresa May gets a kiss from her husband Philip John May. Photo: Getty
Theresa May gets a kiss from her husband Philip John May. Photo: Getty

Brenda Trenowden

From Theresa May to Angela Merkel; Christine Lagarde and Ivanka Trump, there are (currently) high-profile female leaders in government and big business around the world.

With that profile comes an ever-increasing spotlight on the personal lives of those women - do they have children, what are their partners like, how are they juggling the demands of home and work life?

Is it possible they actually 'have it all'? The assumption being that if work and life is hard enough to balance for us mere mortals, then the juggling act for women in such prominent jobs must be even more challenging.

Actually, I'm not so sure that's the case. Certainly in my own life - as a senior executive at ANZ bank and global chair of the 30% Club - the autonomy and career capital I've accumulated over the course of the last 20 years means that now, more than ever, I feel equipped to manage an effective "life model" that delivers for me and my family.

But let's be clear: there is of course no one correct model or 'normal' way of managing things. All that is entirely dependent on personal circumstances, priorities and resources (whether in the form of financial, familial or workplace support).

For women, like May, who are at the very top of their game, I imagine their husbands have been key to facilitating that.

Indeed, one clear sign came on Wednesday. As his wife faced a vote on no confidence on her leadership, Philip May was seen in Prime Minister's Questions, in the Commons, undoubtedly there to offer moral support. And when she entered Number 10 in 2016, he stood beside (though just a little behind) Mrs May, as she walked through the door.

My husband - as the primary caregiver to our two children - has been the cornerstone of support that has allowed me to progress my career within finance, as well as enabling my work within the gender diversity space.

Given that - and the proclivities of millennials and Gen Z, for whom being engaged parents is a priority - it will be interesting to see how the participation of men, in what has traditionally been a 'woman's world', further shifts going forwards and how that in turn affects female workforce participation. (Although it's worth mentioning that, while for me, my husband is the rock of support that's allowed me to flourish, successful women don't have to be married or heterosexual).

I have always had a job that requires long hours, evenings out, and a lot of travel. My family is in Canada and therefore I can't rely on them as a local support network. I always knew, however, that I wanted children and that a family life outside work would be a priority for me.

Having started out trying to manage two careers, we ended up agreeing that mine would take priority and that my husband would follow me on overseas postings, any work he did undertake would have to be flexible and done from home. It's not always easy. I've had days where I've been miserable because I've missed important events with the children. Key for me is making peace with trade-offs as they materialise and doing my best to shrug off the traditional work/life archetype. There is no "work-life balance" - there is only "life".

Having a good open dialogue with my husband and knowing that I have his full support is key to that. I'm sure, in her darkest hour, that Theresa May would agree.

Irish Independent

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