become their CEO and the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company. Earlier this week, at an awards conference organized by Catalyst (a company whose goal is to boost women in the workplace), the 54-year-old mom of two explained how she did it.Ursula Burns started out as an intern at Xerox Corporation and rose through the ranks to
"The secret," she said, "is to marry someone 20 years older."
She may have been joking, but inside every joke is a kernel of truth. Burns met her husband, scientist and researcher Lloyd Bean, at Xerox. “He had already gone through this ‘growing up’ stuff,” she told conference-goers, the Wall Street Journal reported. Their age difference came in handy as Burns took on more responsibility at Xerox and had to travel more often. They had two young kids at home at the time, and so her husband retired in order to he could stay home with them while Burns poured her energy into her career.
The few women who have made it to the top have often said that one of the keys to their success was having a flexible, supportive husband at home. Age may not have much to do with it, but it's far easier to be flexible about work if you can opt out of it entirely. AT&T veteran Frank Fiorina took early retirement in 1998 to help his wife, Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, reach the corner office, according to the New York Times. the husband of Anglo American's CEO Cynthia Carroll quit his job as an accountant after their third child was born (they now have four kids). Angela Braly, CEO of WellPoint, also has a stay-at-home husband -- he left his family's trucking business to stay home with his three kids while his wife climbed the corporate ladder, Working Mother magazine reported.
Some spouses choose to downsize their careers instead. Mark Rometty, whose wife, Virginia Rometty, became the CEO and president of IBM in 2011, has refused to discuss the details, but the Huffington Post points out that he opted for a "more flexible career path" as his wife was working her way to the top. Before Meg Whitman became the CEO of Hewlitt-Packard she was the CEO of eBay, and her husband left his jobs (yes, plural) at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital and relocated to California when she took that position. You don't have to be a CEO to benefit from having a flexible spouse at home, either: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's husband, Martin, used to joke that he moved to Washington because his wife had landed "a good job."
Marrying an older man means that he can complete his career while you're still working on yours, and no one feels they've been forced to cut their career short. Think of it as another kind of work-life balance, one that's measured over the course of a career rather than day-by-day.
Embrace the idea of taking "your entire life to find balance," Burns advises. "You should have balance, on average, over time -- not in a day or in a month."
Also on Shine:10 Secrets of Stay-at-Home Dads
A Female CEO's Secrets to Having it All
The Top 10 Workplace Advantages to Being a Woman