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Gail McGovern and her husband developed what became known as the “kitchen calendar rule” after the birth of their daughter Annie. At the time, McGovern managed 10,000 employees for AT&T, while her husband oversaw a sizable Hewlett-Packard division. Both of them had regular business travel, but one of them also had to be at home for Annie.

According to McGovern, who is currently the CEO of the American Red Cross, “We had two giant jobs.” “At first, we quarreled about who would get to go on a [certain work] trip. The kitchen calendar rule was then put into place: “Whoever booked it first got to go on the vacation.”

McGovern left the office at 6:30 p.m. during those years to replace the nanny and spend the nights with Annie. McGovern remembers those years as being ones when her home was “always a disaster” and her meals consisted of “a lot of take-out.” McGovern stayed up late on conference calls after Annie went to bed.

Despite having demanding professions, McGovern and her husband never required the nanny to put in extra hours and never skipped one of Annie’s school assemblies, recitals, sporting activities, or parent-teacher conferences.

It wasn’t always simple, admits McGovern, a former Harvard Business School professor who had held high executive positions at Fidelity Investments. “You have to love what you do, both at business and as a parent.” There is no doubt in my view that you can have it all if you chose your employers and spouse carefully.

It is crucial to consider how significant the role of a supportive spouse is in the lives of high-powered female executives at a time when topics like gender imbalance in the boardroom and the lack of women in corporate America continue to make news.

“Those jobs are very time-consuming. How can women who have husbands, children, and lives manage?,” wonders Betsy Myers, director of Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business in Waltham, Massachusetts. “How does a woman determine her role at home as she moves up the ladder? In what way does she handle her marriage? How does the woman’s spouse react when her job starts to take off? Everyone’s experience is different.

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