For Better, For Worse, For Free Branding?


Send questions about office, money, career, and work-life balance to: Include your name and location or your wish to remain anonymous. Letters are editable.

My husband is starting to raise money for his new venture. I am a professional brand strategist. He and his co-founder want my help in naming their companies, messaging, and creating their websites and sales materials. He was incredibly hurt when I asked how formal the deal would be and if there would be any compensation, and now he believes I’m not supporting his business. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am extremely proud of him. She says she respects my opinion and apologizes for making assumptions, but I can say that I really hurt her and made her feel unsupported. I am used to being compensated for the same skills in my day job, so I was surprised by his reaction and felt that my expertise was not valued. Am I completely wrong here? Should I work for him for free on the principle of being his wife?

– Anonymous, Berkeley, California.

I understand why your husband was hurt. He clearly believes that supporting him involves working with him to get his company up and running, but he comes to this conclusion without consulting you. My wife is also a brand expert. I occasionally ask him for advice on how to position a project, but there’s a difference between seeking advice and waiting for brand development work. I have a hard time making up my mind about paying him and vice versa. They were married. We support each other. But we also respect each other’s expertise and time. When I need something beyond advice, I ask for advice and he refers me for compensation to a professional who can implement the ideas we’ve discussed.

You and your husband need a loving but honest conversation. Make it clear that you are excited about and support his vision and are happy to lend your knowledge to his efforts. Then manage limits and expectations. How much free work are you willing to do for his company? From consulting to identity development to market positioning, what will this work look like? What happens when you reach the limit of what you want to contribute? Would it be better to propose someone else in your field for your marriage? If there is no direct compensation, will he give you stock options as a measure of goodwill recognizing the value of your expertise? Married or not, your contribution to her dreams deserves to be appreciated in a way that makes you both comfortable. Good luck to him and you.

I am a Gen X API woman with a highly successful career in an industry dominated by white men and more specifically white male leadership archetypes. I now manage and happily mentor a great API woman in her 20s who is as thoughtful as she is ambitious. I give him a healthy amount of supportive feedback on the essence of his work. However, there were stylistic issues – frankness, commercial writing tone, etc. – that I think would help him advance in this industry. – I want to give some feedback about. Frankly, these are all topics that I have explored myself. However, I realize that giving him such advice would only reinforce the kind of patriarchal nonsense that I hope his generation will encounter less of. Should I focus my feedback on the item only?

— Anonymous, Philadelphia

There are many unspoken rules about how to be successful in many industries. As a mentor, it’s a good idea to teach your mentee the verbal and non-verbal rules that will contribute to their success. However, it is also your responsibility to provide it with the necessary context as to why these rules exist and to whom they benefit most. It would also be helpful to discuss alternatives that challenge patriarchal norms, because change has to start somewhere. Try to find that sweet spot between idealism and a realistic understanding of the workplace.


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