When men marry, they receive cigars, slaps on the back, and golf outing invitations from their co-workers. Maybe even a little padding to their annual bonuses. But it goes a little differently for working women, who often take a career hit when they tie the knot. In fact, one 2013 study showed that among female academics, women who were married took an average of 7.8 years to get promoted, while single women climbed the ladder within just 6.7 years on average.
Furthermore, in a study by Harvard Business School, more than half of Gen X and Baby Boomer men expected their career would take priority over their partners. Why? Perhaps because 73 percent of men and 85 percent of women said that “prioritizing family over work” is the number one barrier to a woman’s career. Hmm.
Here, five women reveal how marriage changed their careers—for better and for worse. (Plus, here’s how to get ahead of the pay gap, instead of just getting mad about it.)
1.”I Became Second Fiddle.”
“I work in the events and promotion industry, and a big part of my job was entertaining potential clients and getting them to use our services or even hire us to promote their events. My boss used me as a hook to reel in new business, because I was single and attractive. I was also really good at flirting. When I first entered a relationship and it became serious, I started passing off this job to my assistant. I didn’t have an interest in going out to expensive dinners with middle-aged men. When I got married, I stopped doing this entirely. It just didn’t feel right. My boss would ask me to take off my wedding ring and lie and say I wasn’t married. I didn’t want to quit my job; I just wanted to quit this part of the job. Since I’ve been married, almost a year, my role at the company has become less strategic and more focused on paperwork and less client-facing. To be honest, I’m miserable. I wish I could have the best of both worlds or a new job.”—Nadine K., 31
2.”I Shifted My Focus.”
“When I was single, I was the definition of a workaholic. I would stay at the office until 8 p.m. and work Saturdays and sometimes Sunday. Working was my favorite thing to do because it kept me busy and meant I didn’t feel so alone. When I found a guy I loved spending time with, I stopped devoting myself to my job. I’d rush out of work at 6 p.m. and not check email all weekend. It’s definitely made me less productive and it’s slowed down my chances of advancing to a higher role, since I know a lot of people who are vice presidents at this company work 70 to 80 hours a week. I’m a lot happier this way. I thought work, work, work was the only way to be happy but when you have someone great in your life, the last thing you want to be is stuck at an office. ”—Pam T., 32
3.”They Think I’m Having a Baby.”
“When I got back from my wedding and honeymoon, my boss pulled me into his office and asked me how it all was. His next question was when I was going to get pregnant. I was totally taken back. I work in finance in New York City and it’s a very male dominant industry. He asked me to give him a heads up so he could figure out how to have someone take over my job, since I probably would have a kid and never come back to work. I cut him off mid-sentence and told him I just got married and had no plans of getting pregnant. I also told him this was none of his business.”—Kayley P., 29
4.”I Didn’t Get a Promotion.”
“I’m not 100 percent positive, but I [think] I didn’t get a promotion that I was up for at work because I was the only married one on my team. I work with a lot of young, straight-out-of-college people, and they are mostly single. I got married at 23 and my boss always asks me if I need to leave early to go make dinner for my husband or be with him. My boss isn’t married and nobody I work with is, so they don’t understand that being married doesn’t change your work ethic.”—Candice L., 24
5.”I Had to Quit My Job.”
“I was planning to get married in December, and the February before the wedding, my boss asked me to reconsider my wedding date. I worked in retail and that was a busy month for us. But it’s also the month I always dreamed of getting married in. The choice was to delay my wedding or delay my career. She basically said if I decided to get married that month, I wouldn’t get paid for any time I was going to take off, or for the whole month, because she’d need to hire someone to replace me. I didn’t make a decision until that June, when I finally told my boss I wasn’t changing my wedding date. I quit my job. But it took me four months to find a new job and the salary for that job was $10,000 less than what I was making before.”—Sarah Anne D., 28