Working Together: Navigating Being in a Dual-Career Couple (Part I: Katie Hermann)

Working Together: Navigating Being in a Dual-Career Couple (Part I: Katie Hermann)

Have you ever thought about managing a two-person career search with your partner? Or wondered how you should approach compromising on whose career gets priority at different points? Or how you will split up responsibilities once kids come into the picture to ensure both people remain fulfilled in their careers?

These are questions MBA students might encounter at some point of their lives but are not necessarily discussed enough or given sufficient coaching when we are at business schools. As part of the Women’s History Month celebrations, Chicago Women in Business (CWiB) and Mothers at Booth reached out to alumni who are 8-10 years out of business school and asked them to share some stories about how they’ve approached navigating their dual career lives. We invited their partners to answer the questions jointly because allyship and partnership are the key components and integrated parts of this journey. Katie Hermann, ’10, has graciously offered to join us and incorporated input from her husband, Chris Hermann, ’10, into her insights.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience at Booth.

I am proud to be a mom, spouse, daughter, sister, aunt, godmother, friend, community volunteer, analytics professional, avid reader, amateur birthday cake baker, and Booth alumna! My husband, Chris, and I live with our three girls (Lila, 8; Liesel, 6; and Ellie, 2) and our dog, Lulu, on the north side of Milwaukee. I currently lead a team of 15 professionals at The Master Lock Company, a division of Fortune Brands, as Senior Director of Advanced Analytics.  My work responsibilities include leadership of the revenue growth management, pricing, demand planning, sales operations, and customer compliance teams. I also lead our internal Analytics Council, working with my peers to provide leadership and development opportunities for cross-functional analyst teams.  I’m a proud member of our Women’s Impact Network, a newly created business resource group.

I started at Chicago Booth (then Chicago GSB!) in 2007 as an Evening student and member of the Chicago Business Fellows. I met my husband, Chris, during our first quarter in Financial Accounting with Professor Roman Weil. We became friends and group members, and eventually started dating in 2008; we were married in 2009 just before the fall quarter began, and graduated together in August 2010.  Prior to starting at Master Lock in 2017, I worked at other great household brand names: Harley-Davidson, Redbox, and Kohler, in a variety of finance, strategy, and sales support roles. While at Booth, I co-led the Philanthropy Club, and was a member of the Booth Women’s Network. I have served on the Admissions Committee as an alumna as well. I’m still active with the Women’s Network here in Milwaukee, where I’ve met a great group of women who range across all career stages, and I still keep in touch with lots of friends whom Chris and I met while at Booth together.

What were some of the specific considerations you had before deciding to start a family? Did it affect your career choice post Booth?

I come from a long line of smart, strong, and fun women who have chosen to leave the workforce – temporarily or permanently – to care for their families, and this weighed heavily on my mind as Chris and I were deciding to start our family.  Ultimately, we both agreed that we would put our family as first priority before our careers, but that we would deliberately push ourselves and each other to continue our professional growth and support each other along the way.  We did choose not to pursue career paths with heavy travel post-graduation, and for us that was the right decision, but not the journey that’s right for all.

Since you and your partner are both working and moving up the ranks, what were some of the conversations you had to make sure both of you experience a well-balanced family and work life?

Chris and I have tried to make decisions for our family that make life less stressful and more harmonious, and we’re fortunate to have had those options available to us as our family has grown.  For example, one of the very specific decisions we made early on was to hire a nanny so that we would have a bit more flexibility with childcare, especially because I had a 90-minute commute at the time! We also hired a cleaning person who helped remove one potential source of stress and work for us. Over the last few years (pre-pandemic, that is!) we agreed that every day we would call or text each other around 4:30pm and agree on who would leave work first in order to get home by 5:30 to start dinner and hang out with the kids. Some weeks I’m leaving work first, and some weeks Chris is, depending on what’s going on in our work lives; and typically this agreement means that we’re both firing up our laptops to catch up on work some evenings. But we felt it was important to provide a predictable routine at home as our kids have grown older. I will say, few to none of those decisions happened “naturally;” most required planning and disagreement and discussion amongst ourselves and even with our teams at work, but we remain committed to having those tough conversations and trying out different options to keep our priorities in line.

As a dual career couple with children, what do you think work well for you?

After we moved to Milwaukee and our second child was born, I was evaluating whether to take a new job with a 50-minute commute (a bad commute for Milwaukee – not so bad in Chicago!). I was struggling because I had become accustomed to working primarily from home, so I could do preschool pick-ups/drop-offs most days, and volunteer at the elementary school once a month during lunch.  Those would become impossible if I took the new role. Chris and I talked a lot about it and decided to take the “quality vs. quantity” approach to parenting. We agreed that some times of the day with our family were non-negotiable: we wanted to have dinner together most nights and we wanted to be home in the morning when our kids woke up and were getting ready for school. We would prioritize special events at school (a holiday choir concert, a poetry reading, “special person” day at preschool), but we wouldn’t be able to attend most of the more everyday pick-ups, drop-offs, Girl Scout meetings and baseball practices. Those trade-offs are different for every parent and every family, but by making our choices as a family and prioritizing them, it became easier for me to shake off the “mom guilt” when I couldn’t do some of what I’d done in the past. Ultimately I did accept the new role, and we found a new operating rhythm as a family that worked well for us, even though it looked different.

Did you feel at times that being a mom restricted your access to opportunities at work? How did you mitigate that?

I have been extremely fortunate to work for companies and in roles that generally have provided good work-life balance. Some of that is due to my own planning and prioritization to make sure the most important items get done, and my overall work quality doesn’t suffer. It takes time to plan out your work, and sometimes there are projects outside of our own control that come up, but being intentional about your priorities can gain you back valuable time in your workday or workweek.

I did decrease my work schedule to part-time (60-80% time) when I came back from maternity leave after each of my three girls were born. Each of the three times that I had that conversation (two different companies, three different managers) was a little different, but generally my requests were met with support and we worked to find a win-win solution. During one of those part-time stints, I was approached about becoming manager of my work group, but needed to return full-time to do so. My manager communicated the decision as an opportunity rather than an ultimatum, which I really appreciated, and ultimately I decided to take the opportunity. I have found that communicating transparently about my family priorities, while at the same time recognizing and minimizing the impact on my work team, has helped open good dialogues with my managers, and often we’ve found creative solutions that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.

Any advice for students who are considering when would be the perfect time to start a family?

It’s a very personal decision to start a family, and the journey will look different for everyone. I don’t think there’s one perfect time – you may never feel that the timing lines up exactly right. But, if you’re on the fence about a big life-changing decision – work, family or otherwise – I recommend trying to take a time-out from the intellectual decision-making process and tune in to your “gut” feel. Try to set aside some time to relax, putting some physical distance between yourself and your day-to-day workspace.  Ask yourself the question you’re trying to answer, and listen to the first response that pops into your head.  Generally, in my experience, that first knee-jerk answer to your question is the “right” answer for you, and one you won’t live to regret.

How has Chicago Booth supported you as a mother and a student?

Opportunities for connection with fellow students and alumni – both virtual and in person – have been invaluable to me. I have never been turned down by a fellow Booth alum when I’ve reached out for career advice or networking.  A few years post-graduation, I was weighing the decision to take a step back in title (going from manager to analyst) when my family and I were moving from Chicago to Milwaukee. I reached out via email to a group of six women I’d kept in touch with since graduation, looking for advice, and they all emailed back within 24 hours with stories, advice, and encouragement.  Keep those connections as close as you can. I think you’ll find that your Booth friends become lifelong connections because you have a shared experience and shared history that will carry you through many life decisions to come.

How has this current time period caused you to reevaluate your priorities?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially difficult on women, both mothers and not.  I have been so fortunate to stay employed throughout the past year, but it’s been a struggle some days to keep my kids educated, focused, and healthy while also trying to sustain my own work-life balance and provide support for my team during this challenging time in all our lives.

Now more than ever, it’s important to communicate our needs and be courageous about reaching out to both ask for – and offer! – a helping hand, at work and in life. As Booth women, we have a lot of pride (as we should!), and many of us have reached personal success through grit, determination, and sheer force of our own “get it done” attitudes. We should celebrate that, while also recognizing that we have a responsibility to help provide opportunities for others as we continue to grow in our own careers.