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My husband is beginning to fund-raise for his new start-up. I’m a professional brand strategist. He and his co-founder want my help naming their company, crafting messaging and creating their website and pitch materials. When I asked how formal the arrangement would be and whether there would be any compensation involved, he was incredibly hurt and now believes I don’t support his business. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am extremely proud of him. He says he respects my opinion and apologized for making assumptions, but I can tell I really hurt him and made him feel unsupported. I’m used to being compensated for the same skills in my day job, so I was surprised by his reaction and felt like my expertise wasn’t valued. Am I completely wrong here? Should I work for him for free on the principle of being his wife?
— Anonymous, Berkeley, Calif.
I understand why your husband was hurt. He clearly believes supporting him involves working with him to get his company off the ground, but he has drawn this conclusion without consulting you. My wife happens to be a brand expert, too. I occasionally ask her for advice on how to position this or that project, but there is a difference between seeking advice and expecting the work of brand development. I would have a hard time wrapping my mind around paying her or vice versa. We’re married. We support each other. But we also respect each other’s expertise and time. When I need something beyond advice, I ask for recommendations, and she directs me to a professional who will be able to execute the ideas we’ve discussed, for compensation.
You and your husband need to have a loving but honest conversation. Make clear that you are excited for and support his vision and that you’re happy to lend your knowledge to his efforts. Then manage boundaries and expectations. How much uncompensated work are you willing to do for his company? What will that work look like, ranging from consultation to identity development to market positioning? What happens when you reach the limit of what you are willing to contribute? Would it be better, for the sake of your marriage, to recommend someone else in your field? If there is no direct compensation, will he give you stock options as a measure of good faith that acknowledges the value of your expertise? Married or not, any contributions you make to his dreams deserve to be acknowledged in ways with which you are both comfortable. Best of luck to him and you.
Daily Business Briefing
Smash the Patriarchy
I am a Gen X A.P.I. woman who has a reasonably successful career in an industry dominated by white men and, more specifically, white male archetypes of leadership. I now manage — and, happily, mentor — a wonderful 20-something A.P.I. woman, who is as thoughtful as she is ambitious. I give her a healthy amount of supportive feedback on the substance of her work. However, I would like to give her some feedback on style issues — upspeak, business writing tone, etc. — that I think will help her advance in this industry. Frankly, these are all issues that I’ve navigated myself. However, I recognize that giving her such advice will only reinforce the kind of patriarchal nonsense that I hope her generation will face less. Should I just focus my feedback on substance?
— Anonymous, Philadelphia
There are a lot of unspoken rules about how to succeed in many industries. It’s a good idea for you, as a mentor, to teach your mentee both the spoken and unspoken rules that will contribute to her success. But it’s also your responsibility to provide her with the necessary context as to why those rules exist and whom they benefit most. It would also be useful to discuss alternatives that challenge patriarchal norms, because change does have to start somewhere. Try to find that sweet spot between idealism and a realistic understanding of the workplace.