Partnership is key, according to Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

Partners – the best career choice of all

Your clients may be important but your choice of life partner is key to business success.

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In, identifies the single biggest career decision for a woman is “whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is”.

Sandberg puts forward a number of arguments as to how women can strive forward in their careers. Partnership, according to Sandberg, is key.

She points to the impact of a lack of spousal support on a career, and talks about how working parents can strive for greater equality and a more supportive home environment.

She’s not the only business leader to view choosing a life partner as a key career decision; investment guru Warren Buffett agrees.

The spousal effect

Speaking earlier this year, during a discussion with Bill Gates at Columbia University, Buffett said: “You will move in the direction of the people that you associate with. So it’s important to associate with people that are better than yourself and, actually, the most important decision many of you will make, not all of you, will be the spouse you choose.”

Spousal effect on a career has also drawn interest from academics.

A 2014 study, The Long Reach of One’s Spouse: Spouses’ Personality Influences Occupational Success, by Brittany C. Solomon and Joshua J. Jackson of Washington University in St Louis gave credence to the theory that a spouse or partner can have a significant impact on your career.

The study found that a more conscientious partner could boost job satisfaction, income and the likelihood of promotion by “creating conditions that allow their spouses to work more effectively”.

“The current findings highlight the importance of one’s romantic partner in the workplace,” the study’s authors noted.

“Although Sandberg (2013) encouraged women to ‘lean in’ by taking charge of their careers to get ahead, our study illustrates how spouses’ personality can play a key role in facilitating such leaning in for both women and men. Specifically, above and beyond the tendency to put one’s best foot forward in the office, obtaining a conscientious spouse to lean on may help promote engagement in the workplace and occupational success.”


According to Sharon McCooey, head of LinkedIn Ireland, couples must work together as a team.

“My husband and I both work in demanding jobs and we support each other to maximise our work life balance,” she said. “At the heart of our relationship is recognising that it’s a partnership and for us to succeed – whether it’s in our business or personal lives – we have to work together as a team.”

For working couples juggling careers, kids and trying to operate as a team, it can be hard to achieve total equality. One partner may have to take on more at certain times – but in the knowledge that it works both ways.

In McCooey’s experience, work travel is a good example of this. “When I have to travel to the US for work I could be away for an entire week, so my husband will invariably have to balance his workload with more time for the family,” she said. “Similarly when he travels, I do the same. Good communication is essential to making this work.”

Eat in

The LinkedIn Ireland boss believes that couples need to find ways to help dovetail their professional and personal lives. “One of the ideas we came up with to achieve this is what we’ve dubbed a ‘colleague special’,” she said. “Instead of going out to dinner with colleagues travelling to Dublin, I invite them to come home with me to dinner. We keep it simple by sticking to tried and tested meals. This means I get to be at home when my children go to bed, as well as the chance to talk to colleagues in a relaxed environment.”

While individual couples can put in place the structures that work best for their careers and their families, the wider environment also needs to shift to facilitate greater equality.

In Sandberg’s view, the traditional gender roles, of women as caregivers and men as breadwinners, are reinforced by public policy and the employment policies of individual companies.

McCooey believes business leaders have a role to play. For example, she meets “returning mothers from maternity leave within the first month for at least an hour”.

“We talk freely about how the return is going, but the main thing I try to impress upon fellow working mums is that we can all help each other, whatever part we play in our organisation,” she said.