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So… You Earn More Than Your Husband?

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Earning more money than her boyfriend proved to be dangerous for Thembisa*, but it didn’t start out that way. Their relationship bloomed from a serendipitous meeting on a bus, but four years later, Bongi* was still taking the bus while Thembisa owned a car and paid for all their household expenses.

Then she bought him a laptop for his birthday. This generosity was the catalyst for all of Bongi’s pent-up frustration and most importantly, his feelings of disempowerment: it boiled into a physical fight so violent she ended up in hospital for a week.

“Often, men can experience feelings of shame and inadequacy at not feeling that they are providing,” explains Clinical Psychologist Richard Middleton. “A central aspect of masculine identity, for many men, is that of being a provider.”

Money has, and always will be, an issue in relationships: because money isn’t about the money – money is about power. Money is about freedom. Money is about choice. And money becomes a symbol of so much more than its Rand value when it’s in a relationship.

As financial advisor Lisa Linfield says: “Money isn’t one dimensional.” This becomes even clearer when there is an income inequality in a relationship, and, as Linfield explains, the money becomes a way to “express the state of the relationship”. Existing issues and dynamics will get played out in the finances. Clinical Psychologist Annette du Toit puts it another way: “The money becomes a metaphor.”

Now, Thembisa’s story may not be the norm, but the relationship wage gap is not a new phenomenon. What’s new about it is in 2017, women are increasingly out-earning their partners and becoming the main breadwinners.

Though this works for many couples, in patriarchal South Africa, both women and men struggle with a power dynamic that is against both their heritage and their expectations. Alison*, a managing director, is now, after a series of unplanned events, out-earning her husband.

She explains: “My husband and I are both Afrikaans – a traditionally patriotic culture, and the cherry on top is that he is a farmer. Although we are both modern, liberal and progressive thinkers, there are certain ingrained cultural quirks which are hard to shake.”

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One of these was directly linked to decision-making and the role of head of the household. As she told me, “I wouldn’t say it caused trouble in our relationship – but it blurred the lines of authority. My husband unconsciously started leaving all important financial decisions to me – a burden I felt too heavy to carry along with being the breadwinner. He on the other hand felt that the breadwinner had the ‘luxury’ of making such decisions. So although I am the breadwinner, I wanted all traditional roles to remain… something he felt he could not do as it was ‘my money’.”

Money, in fact, is more often than not a key indicator of a relationship’s success. “One of the best predictors for divorce is financial disagreements,” says Linfield, quoting a university study by Jeffrey Dew that “those who argue about money once a week are over 30% more likely to get divorced than those who disagree only once or twice.”

Annette says, “The dynamic isn’t any different to when women are financially disempowered in a relationship. The difference is that it’s not a social norm for men to be perceived as disempowered.” Though the wage gap is still a very real phenomenon in the South African workplace, more and more women are climbing the career ladder and secretly changing a long-standing dynamic.

Why secretly? I can only guess. What I know for certain is that of the seven sources I interviewed for first person stories, whether in good or bad relationships, cutting across the race, gender and career spectrum nationwide, all except one asked to be anonymous. My best guess is it’s probably because, as one source said, “I don’t want to embarrass my husband.”

Embarrassment is a very real fear. Franco Pellegrini, a Peruvian Italian sound engineer and stay-at-home-dad, has found the social shaming associated with having his wife as the main breadwinner an unfortunate phenomenon in South Africa.

“For men, it’s not really common,” he says, “There’s a lot of judgement, and when I say I look after the kids, a lot of men will say ‘my wife does that’.”

It’s commonplace at social gatherings for men to make snide off-hand comments that imply being the nurturer is an easy role; comments, Pellegrini says, that often infuriate their wives doing the exact same thing. And as a ‘stay-at-home’ dad, Pellegrini finds it frustrating how society and infrastructure are heavily skewed towards women as the nurturers.

Most classes are called something along the lines of ‘Moms and Tots’, few malls have gender-neutral or male baby-changing rooms, and a lot of people assume Pellegrini, as a lone male, has an illicit agenda with their children. One thing that helps with this is his group of like-minded, stay-at-home dads who meet once a week to bond, commiserate, and drink wine. Society aside, Pellegrini’s relationship with his wife works financially. His wife’s income is seen as ‘theirs’ and his contributions are valued as highly as hers – even if they don’t match Rand for Rand.

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Another successful relationship is Ayanda* and her husband. Ayanda finds being the main provider extremely rewarding, and loves that her husband encourages her ambition. “Practically, at the end of the day, it’s about the long-term view,” she says, “He is my best friend and we support each other, each doing what we do best for both of us.”

What both relationships are doing right is seeing the money as something practical, not linked to worth, and aligning their long-term goals with what each can contribute to the relationship. As Linfield says: “Secret-keeping, and looking at money as ‘yours, mine and ours’ can cause a lot of trouble in a relationship.”

Managing a relationship wage gap can be challenging, with a wide range of factors affecting the relationship; the main trick though is to respect and value each other.

HOW TO MANAGE YOUR MONEY (IN A RELATIONSHIP WAGE GAP)

  • MAKE A MENTAL SHIFT: Don’t think “I am earning R50,000, he is earning R20,000”, rather think “We are earning R70,000” and plan how to use that money for your shared future.
  • MONEY EXPRESSES HOW YOU THINK: As financial advisor Lisa Linfield says, money becomes an expression of your personality. Are you a saver or an adventurer? Understanding you and your partner’s financial needs will help immensely.
  • PAY PROPORTIONALLY TO INCOME: Happy Ngale, a financial wellbeing consultant at Alexander Forbes, has this handy formula to help you work it out:Income 1 (higher income) + Income 2 = Total income
    Income 1/total income x 100 = % split
    g. R50,000 + R20,000 = R70,000
    R50,000/R70,000 x 100 = 71%.
    Therefore Income 1 would pay for 71% of the joint bills meaning Income 2 pays 29% towards the joint bill.This balances the payments and creates a fair share towards the joint bills.
  • DO YOUR FINANCIAL PLANNING TOGETHER: Transparency really is your best friend here! Retiring together one day is your long-term financial goal, so make sure your sights are aligned to the same end result.
  • VALUE WHAT YOUR PARTNER BRINGS: As Annette says, this might not be money! Looking after the children, managing the household, and other tasks all are as important as a financial contribution.
  • IF IT’S NOT WORKING, REEVALUATE: If you do feel the financial situation isn’t working – if the breadwinner is feeling too much pressure, or if you simply don’t have enough money, or if one partner is unhappy, it’s perfectly OK to have a look again at your financial agreement and come to one that makes both partners happy. This might mean one of you going back to work, or one of you working less, advises Kerri Lutz, Wealth Coach and Financial Advisor for Women.
  • CHOOSE A CARETAKER: As John Manyike, Head of Financial Education at Old Mutual, explains: “Having a joint bank account is a convenient way to manage day-to-day spending and saving, but it can be problematic if one of you is not financially disciplined. Couples must identify who the financially responsible one is and agree on who is best-suited to taking care of the household budget.”
  • BE TRANSPARENT: Don’t keep financial secrets. Know what’s happening with both of you so you can plan accordingly, for your joint future.

(*not their real names)

  • Written by Samantha Steele

Interview

Why We Need ‘Hard Cash In The Economy’

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Busi Mabuza, the Chairperson of the Board of the Industrial Development Corporation, on the BRICS summit and why we need to start talking as an African bloc.

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Focus

The Heroes Among Us

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Heroes exist in history, on celluloid, in pop culture or in these digital times, at the forefront of technology. These are the mighty who shine on the front pages of newspapers, as the paradigms of victory and virtue. But every day in public life, surrounding us are some of the real stars, the nameless, the faceless we don’t recognize or celebrate. In the pages that follow, we look at some of them, exploring the exemplary work they do, from the war zones to your neighborhood streets. They are not flawless, they are not infallible, but they are heroes.

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Entrepreneurs

The Ghanaian Who Brought HR Corporate America To Ghana

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Ghana is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies this year, according to the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the IMF. Its projected growth in 2018 is between 8.3-8.9%.

The Ghanaian workforce is young, with 57% of the population under the age of 25. This means millions of new graduates enter the workforce each year. One woman who understands the struggle that awaits this unsuspecting group in corporate Ghana is Human Resources (HR) entrepreneur, Rita Kusi.

Kusi is the founder and CEO of Keeping “U” Simply Intact (KUSI) Consulting, a marketing, training and recruiting company based in the United States (US) and in Ghana. She is also the Managing Director of threesixtyGh, a social enterprise company with an online presence showcasing innovative ventures in Ghana and the people behind them.

Born in Bolga, Northern Ghana, Kusi’s family gained access to the US through the US Visa Lottery in the early 80s. The family relocated to the US in 1991 where Kusi remained until 2013. And that is also where she amassed a wealth of experience working in several sectors.

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After college, Kusi worked a number of temporary jobs, from telemarketing in Atlanta to door-to-door sales in Maryland. She even tried her hands at customer services and working in cafes.

“I think for me having held all these jobs opened my eyes and I realized especially what I wanted to do in corporate America,” says Kusi.

All these experiences came together when she applied for a new role as HR assistant. When she did not hear back from the company regarding her application, Kusi took the initiative and called the hiring manager.

“So my dad told me to call and get feedback and as I called my CV happened to be in front of the hiring manager and he invited me in for the interview. I knew nothing about HR but I was just really looking for a job and I ended up getting that job and it was the longest I ever stayed at any job so that was a sign,” says Kusi.

She had finally found her calling in HR but it was not until a nostalgic visit back home that she would merge all her US experience together, ushering in a new life as an entrepreneur.

There were no real training programs at the time focused on improving the quality of customer service in Ghana. Kusi seized the opportunity to provide quality HR training programs, which she hoped organizations would pay for. And they did. This was the birth of Kusi Consulting.

From training services, the company has morphed its offerings into recruitment services and Kusi is now diversifying into skills-training as well as business process outsourcing, where the company handles the pay roll function for other corporate clients. Her timing couldn’t be more perfect. Hiring the right people is critical for companies to reduce employee attrition and enhance returns from HR. Companies face challenges in accurately perceiving and assessing an employee’s quality attributes prior to hiring that employee. This problem is more pronounced in African economies, which involves novices who do not have prior work records attesting to their raw skills, learning abilities and motivation. And this is where Kusi comes in.

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She believes a specialist HR function is imperative in every organization to ensure maximum output by each employee. However, she has had some difficulty convincing corporate Ghana.

“It has been challenging operating here especially being a female because it is literally a man’s world and in this country, it’s all about who you know… There is that challenge of how do I make myself look older and more respected?” she says.

But ever resilient, Kusi refuses to back down. She hopes to create her own temp agency where she has skilled staff inhouse which she can outsource on demand to other companies. Her newly-formed team is just as passionate about the business and with that focus, she is rebranding her company to be a leader in HR not only in Ghana but across Africa.

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