Andrea Kramer and Alton Harris, more commonly known by their nicknames Andie and Al, are familiar with what it takes to build and maintain a successful partnership, both at work and at home.
They’ve both held senior management positions within law firms, getting to know the ins and outs of what it takes to keep a well-oiled firm running, from the recruiting, hiring and firing to supervising teams and handling promotions. They’ve also been married for over 30 years. And during that time, they’ve developed insight into how they can help advance workplace gender equality as a team.
That’s partly what drove them to collaborate on their latest venture, the book “It’s Not You, It’s the Workplace: Women’s Conflict at Work and the Bias That Built It.” In it, the co-authors spell out a rebuttal to age-old stereotypes that position inter-female conflict as the result of internal forces, like jealousy and pettiness, looking instead to the institutional forces at play. It’s a topic they’ve had plenty of opportunity to take notes on throughout their careers. And, given the number of times they’ve collaborated with each other on legal issues, it only made sense to write the book as a pair, too.
Andie and Al recently sat down with Fairygodboss to talk about their writing process and to share exactly how their decades-long marriage fortifies them as partners, professionally and personally.
When did you first start working together?
Andie: “We started working together when we were lawyers at the same firm, and we began writing a monthly column for a financial journal at that time, too. After we got married, I went to a larger firm, but we continued to collaborate. Writing together is something we enjoy doing together, and we’re good at it. We have separate careers, but together we have built a home, raised a daughter, shared resources — and written a lot.”
Al: “One day, Andie came to me and said, ‘I want to reach more women about overcoming gender bias, but to do that, I need to write a book. Will you write it with me?’ She couldn’t imagine taking on such an enormous writing project without me, and frankly, I couldn’t imagine not doing it with her. So we started collaborating on gender issues. Now seven years later, we are still writing and speaking together to help women combat gender bias.”
In writing this book together, did you have any thoughts or concerns around how the process would impact your relationship?
Andie: “When I asked Al to write a book with me, it never entered my mind that it could pose difficulties for our personal relationship. We had collaborated on legal issues for many years, and I saw no reason this project would be any more stressful for our personal relationship. And besides, I wanted to get Al’s (male) perspective to give women a balanced picture of what they were up against. Writing together was what we did, and when we started lecturing and conducting workshops together, it became clear that we were both better together than we were on our own. As one friend recently remarked, ‘Isn’t ‘Andie and Al,’ one word?’”
Al: “I can’t begin to count the number of times people have said to me something like, ‘Marriage is for better or worse … but never for lunch.’ I always smile at this but think how much they are missing. Andie and I work together in the same room; we talk about our daughter, our professional engagements, our friends and our social plans, our writing and speaking. Everything blends into everything else in one seamless whole. It’s not a matter of better or worse, for richer or poorer; it’s about engaging in the whole process of living, thinking and doing together.”
How did you approach the actual writing of the book? Did you divvy certain parts up?
Andie: “I am often asked if Al and I divide our writing up: my doing X and Al doing Y. That has always struck me as peculiar. I know that spouses are often advised to have distinct areas of responsibility so as not to come into conflict. Maybe that makes sense for some people, but I can’t imagine formally dividing our writing responsibilities. Sometimes I do a first draft and Al edits it; other times, it’s the reverse. Whichever way it starts, however, before we sign off on a finished piece, it has gone back and forth so many times that it’s hard to remember who started it, or who added, took out or modified what.”
How did you handle disagreements that came up during the process, if any did?
Al: “People ask us whether we ever disagree, have serious conflicts, or feel hostile to or resentful of one another. Sure, we disagree. What we have to say wouldn’t be nearly as insightful and powerful as it is if we didn’t have different perspectives and challenge each other’s ideas. But disagreement is not conflict, and I can only think of one instance that came close to being a conflict that we resolved within hours.”
Andie: “I think that the dream relationship is pursuing a challenging, important task with someone you love and respect. So, I guess I am in a dream relationship. Sure, we have our differences, because we have had different life and professional experiences. Indeed, the core of what we write about is how and why women’s and men’s experiences in the workplace are so different simply because of their different genders. But without those differences, there would be no point to our collaboration. Ultimately, we are able to meld our differences because our love for one another makes it safe to bring up and explore whatever thoughts, feelings and concerns we have.”
What do you think has helped you to take on this project and others so successfully as a couple?
Al: “We each have successful, rewarding and highly satisfying professional careers, but the two most fulfilling and meaningful experiences of our lives have been raising our daughter and writing and speaking together. And in some ways, those experiences are not all that different.”
Andie: “Neither has involved one of us ‘being in charge’ or having ultimate control over this aspect or that aspect of the undertaking. We listen to one another and to our daughter, and we almost never become dogmatic or defensive. We are always willing to change course if what we are doing is not working. Thankfully, both our daughter and our writing have turned out remarkably well. It is hard to imagine two luckier people!”