Dual Career Families – How We Make It Work

Photo of the panelTwo weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Society of Women in Engineering’s WE18 conference in Minneapolis.  This is the world’s largest conference for female engineers with close to 14,000 in attendance this year!  It was an empowering three-day event that over 150 Emerson women and men were able to attend.  One of the sessions I attended was titled, Dual Career Families – How We Make It Work.  The panel was driven by three successful female leaders at Emerson and included their husbands.  In this blog, I will share some of the key pieces of advice each couple offered and provided a recap of the interactive question and answer session with the audience.

The panel was moderated by Amy Johnson, a Director in Product Management, who has been with Emerson for 36 years.

The Panelists:

  • Jennifer and Karl Urquhart – Jennifer is currently a Senior Lead Manufacturing Engineer and has been with Emerson for 5 years. Her husband Karl works in the semi-conductor industry.  They have five children and when they can, they like to spend time together doing outdoor activities.
  • Kelly and Keith Klein – Kelly is currently the VP/GM for Magnetic and Vortex Flowmeters and has been with Emerson for 18 years. Keith is semi-retired while still working as the CEO for Transport America.  They have two adult children and recently added a labradoodle puppy to their family.
  •  and Chris Stiegler – Melissa is currently the Hygienic Business Director for Emerson’s Rosemount business. Her husband, Chris, also works for Emerson as an Engineering Manager.  They have two children and like to spend time together running and being Hockey parents.

Tips and Tricks to Successfully Managing a Dual Career Family:

Jennifer and Karl’s key pieces of advice:

  1. Patience is very important. Things never happen as fast as you want them to; learn to be flexible and adapt to situations as they change. 
  2. Memories are worth more than money. It is important to plan special events to share as a family. One personal story Jennifer shared was that Saturdays were laundry day.  To make it fun and memorable, they put on music and danced as a family while folding clothes.  Their children still remember this special family time to this day.
  3. Communication is key. Make time to talk as a couple; important career commitments and opportunities may arise that interfere with family plans and special events. Open communication can help navigate these conflicts.

Kelly and Keith’s key pieces of advice:

  1. Each spouse must be a true partner – find and be with someone who will support you in your career.
  2. Career priorities are situational; at different points in your life, you may need to change your career path to balance your home life. You should allow yourself the opportunity to scale back if you need to.
  3. You can’t do it all. Understand your priorities and establish family priorities that align with those of your spouse.
  4. Don’t expect to get rich quick. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page and think of your dual career as an investment in your future. Spend money on the time-saving necessities (house cleaning, daycare, etc.) so you can further your career and still have family time.

Melissa and Chris’s key pieces of advice:

  1. Find the right partner!
  2. Ask for help – people are willing if you just ask. One personal story they shared was using frequent flyer miles to bring family members to their home to help with childcare.  If you take a vacation, they recommended inviting family members to help care for children in order to spend time together as a couple.
  3. Spending time together as a couple is important; make it a priority.

Audience Q&A Session: 

Q:  How do you encourage collaboration with your spouse when it comes to household tasks without it coming off as pestering? 

Kelly:  Each spouse needs to be a true partner.  One might be better than the other at a certain task, but both partners need to be open to doing tasks that you don’t always want to do.  Thank your partner when they do something that is helpful.

Q:  How do you manage guilt while traveling and being away from your children? 

Melissa:  Mom guilt is real!  Chris has a flow when he is at home with the children and sometimes I call and mess up that flow.  So, I started texting to plan the best time to call or Facetime with the kids.  On the other hand, I think it is important for my children to see me as a role model and see that you can have a family and a successful career at the same time.

Karl:  Pictures are important – use today’s technology (Snapchat, Facetime, etc.) and make it a family event.

Kelly:  My son told me after he was grown that he had amazing respect for me as a child because of my career; cherish the fact you are being a role model for them.

Q:  When female engineers make more than their male spouse, how do you deal with that? 

Karl and Jennifer:  We have gone back and forth with who makes more money our whole careers.  We’ve always looked at our salaries as “family money” –  not Jennifer’s or Karl’s money. 

Q:  Does your employer do anything to support dual career families?

Melissa and Chris:  Emerson has flexible work policies, so you just need to learn to use them!  I am a room parent for my son; this is a priority to me.  Communicate with your boss to help them understand your priorities outside of work.  Find a company and a manager that gives you flexibility.

Chris:  If an organization doesn’t understand that couples are dual career families, try to educate them. Today, companies need to change to hire new and talented people.  If they can’t change, find a company that gives you the flexibility you need.

Q:  Do you have any tips for building a new village (moving your family away from an established support system)? 

Karl:  Get to know your neighbors!  They have become an extended part of our family.

Keith:  There may be others at your work with the same situation; get to know them and see if you can leverage them and their relationships.

Q:  Mealtimes/food prep – What is your strategy for making meal time important?  

Chris:  It’s okay to eat out instead of always having a home cooked meal.  Wherever we are eating, we put technology down and talk to each other. 

Kelly:  The most important thing about a meal is the time together, not what the food is.  When my kids were young, I created a breakfast menu for them. The options weren’t fancy, an English muffin, a waffle, etc., but I think they enjoyed that it made breakfast time more of an experience together. *

*Side note: Kelly’s son was in the audience, he told his neighbor he had forgotten but was thrilled to recall the breakfast menu days.

Keith and Jennifer:  Sunday is prep day. We prep easy grab and go snacks and meals and look at the next week’s calendar to see where a home-cooked meal can fit in.  Also, take time to plan special meals. 

Q:  Have you had an opportunity to relocate for one spouse where you then have to find a new opportunity for the other spouse – can you give tips on how to do this?  

Karl and Jennifer:  Jennifer has done this many times over the last 20 years as I have relocated.  Keep your resume updated and look at it as a growth opportunity for yourself. 

Kelly:  Take turns with your spouse when new career opportunities arise. I recently heard a couple say they went by the ‘10-year plan’. For 10 years, her career was their priority and then in 10 years, the family made his career their priority, etc.

Being part of a dual-career family myself (my husband and I both work for Emerson), this session gave me a lot of good ideas for navigating our professional future.  What are some of your dual-career family tips and tricks?  Share in the comments below!

  • Thanks for sharing Cherra! I would say having someone clean our house on a regular basis after we had our first kid has helped us spend more time with the kids when we are home. A roster of babysitters is crucial especially since we don't have family close by. When the kids inevitably get sick, it's helpful to be in a role where you can work from home if needed while taking care of them and/or have a manager/team that's understanding of the situation and can figure out a way to make it work.