Women executives shy away from talking about the hired help that supports their C-suite careers. Why?

December 12, 2022, 1:30 PM UTC
Photo illustration of a woman in business attire being held up by a pile of hands.
Photo illustration by Victoria Ellis/Fortune; Original photos by Getty Images (3)

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Today’s guest essay comes from Fortune’s Megan Leonhardt, who shares her new story about the domestic support at home that allows female executives to rise to the C-suite. Plus: Taylor Swift will direct her first feature film and Peru gets a new president. Have a great Monday.

– How she does it. Female executives are among the hardest-working people I meet and interview. They seem to be in constant motion—dashing from meeting to meeting, sprinting through weeks of corporate travel, shuffling through dozens of impactful projects, and yet still carving out family time. But when I ask how they accomplish it all, the typical response is to deflect.

There’s an answer that goes unsaid: most have help at home. So why do women still shy away from openly talking about hiring the help they need to lean into their careers? Why are recommendations for daycares, cleaning services, housekeepers, assistants, and even personal trainers found via whisper network rather than out in the open?

I dive into those questions in a new story for Fortune. Over the years, many female executives admit they’ve quietly agonized over hiring help and suffer through a lot of “mom guilt” when they do. “Women have been given this idea in how we were raised—or what we saw in the media—that our job is to make other people’s lives easier and to take care of other people,” Sarah Bond, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for game creator experience and ecosystem at Xbox, told me. “Fundamentally, it sort of runs through all of these little subtle messages that you’ve been given. And so when you do something to take care of yourself, or give yourself balance, you feel bad about it.”

By opening up about the struggle (and cost) to reach the C-suite, many women at the top seem to fear they’ll come across as entitled or incapable—or worse. But two-thirds of U.S. working women with at least one direct report pay for some type of hired help, according to a new poll Fortune conducted in conjunction with The Muse and Fairygodboss. Among women who are at the VP level, in the C-suite, or founders, the percentage using some type of paid service jumps to 75%.

The truth is, as more women and future leaders move up the ladder—and by the end of January 2023, for the first time ever, 10% of Fortune 500 companies are set to be led by women—it’s important that more high-powered women like the ones I recently spoke with talk candidly about the paid and unpaid help they source. Being more transparent about the support it takes to effectively lead can not only help other women stop the guilt trip and delegate before they run out of gas, but also sets up roadmaps for future leaders to better balance work and life.

“I feel like as women we often tend to look at our personal life and feel like we have to do it all,” says Molly McAllister, Banfield Pet Hospital’s chief medical officer and senior vice president of veterinary affairs. “But how much more can you accomplish strategically when you remove some of the emotional burden?”

At the end of the day, it typically takes a village to make tackling the C-suite possible, something men have been leaning into without guilt for centuries. Maybe that support comes in the form of hired help. Maybe it’s a stay-at-home spouse. Maybe it’s a wide network of friends and family. Yet every blueprint for making it work is worth sharing. There’s a reason that so many inspirational mugs, t-shirts and posters are sold with the quote: “Behind every great woman are great women.”

Read my full story here.

Megan Leonhardt

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Subscribe here.


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