Women in corporate America — well, women in America in general — have been stealing headlines at a more rapid rate than usual in the last couple of weeks. And of course, the conversations — whether about Indra Nooyi or Cameron Diaz or Mary Barra — center on what is apparently the most central issue for women today.
No, I’m not talking about reproductive rights or equal representation at the top rungs (whether that means Congress, the C-suite or the earnings ladder). Instead, the issue is whether women already at the top rungs can, in fact, “have it all.” Because if they can’t, there’s obviously little hope for the rest of us.
Excuse me while I punch something.
Am I the only one that finds this entire conversation just a little bit misguided and confusing and infuriating?
There are several problems with the end goal of “having it all” — the fact that the definition of “all” is different for everyone (regardless of gender) and the fact that, frankly, the achievement of “all” is impossible for everyone (regardless of gender) being the two most obvious.
Point me towards someone who supposedly has it all, and I guarantee I can either point out something (and likely numerous somethings) he or she is missing, or point out something (and likely numerous somethings) he or she sacrificed in order to attain this impressive “all.”
We all need to balance our desires with a “good enough, do the best you can, s*** happens, sacrifices must be made” attitude. At the risk of getting too philosophical and soap-boxy, that’s life.
Indra nodded to this reality recently, saying:
“I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions.”
But instead of us acknowledging that this is just the way it goes for everyone — we all pretend, we all aspire, we all fall short — we turn it into a gender issue and decry the fact that us feisty females have to make these tough trade-offs.
I see that as a big problem for one simple reason: There are other, bigger problems we actually have to contend with.
Women still do have a long way to go. Many of us still face double standards and a double shift to this day. Look no further than the Matt Lauer interview with General Motors (GM) CEO Mary Barra, in which he asks whether she can be successful at being head honcho in the office and in the home.
The fact that this same question — as critics have rightly pointed out — wouldn’t have been asked of a man is an issue, as it clearly illustrates the fact that standards (both in the home and at work) remain very different for mothers and fathers.
Heck, maybe we don’t talk about men having it all, because we don’t expect men to do it all. (As my mom loves say: A woman does a little less than everything, and she is a horrible mother. A man does a little more than nothing, and he is the world’s best father.)
Either way, this instance and others like it clearly illustrate a real issue and a huge obstacle to having more high-ranking women, leveling the pay gap and passing along a better example to upcoming generations.
But instead of focusing on that, we are focusing on an undefined and unattainable utopia. We are clouding the success stories that exist by holding them up to an absurd ideal. And by doing so, we are setting ourselves up for failure instead of progress.
It’s great to have women like Indra and Mary in charge, and we need to help make more of them. To do that, we need to be realistic, and focus on the issues and opportunities that really matter.