It’s been the most asked question on people’s lips since Anne-Marie Slaughter published her soon-to-be-epic piece in The Atlantic magazine, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, a few months ago.
Women at BRW have spent much time debating whether it’s possible – and here’s my contribution. I am firmly in the, “no, we can’t have it all” camp, because I believe it’s the wrong question to pose. The better question would be: can humans have it all? Or, do we really want/need to have it all? Or even better, why aren’t men expected to have it all?
Life is a series of compromises and while juggling a career and a family is possible, at various points in time one inevitably gets more focus than another. This applies equally to both men and women (but unfortunately it’s all too often the woman who is the one expected to do the balancing).
One of the most powerful women in the world – International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde – recently noted how women wanting to balance motherhood and a career should accept that “you cannot have it all at the same time – you must accept there will be failures”.
More and more, as I watch working women with kids try to juggle their duties – some with more success than others – I realise that the desire to have everything at once is foolish. It’s setting up women and men to have unrealistic expectations, rather than working towards a happy and fulfilling life.
While I am yet to have children, I know that when I do there will be daily choices about how I prioritise my kids and my job. I don’t see how it’s possible for all things to have the exact same priority at the exact same time.
Where I do agree with my female colleagues who have written on this topic concerns the role that men – both in our personal lives and in the workforce – can play in trying to help make that balancing act easier.
In a personal context, that means that sometimes men have to be the ones prepared to do some juggling. Often those women who claim we can “have it all” have a partner willing to accommodate them in trying to help them carry out their desire to be super-mum and super-corporate woman.
In a work context, clearly people in decision-making positions (yes, that’s most often men) need to offer working parents the ability to work more flexibly. There are many cases of this already happening across workplaces – some great examples come from of the Male Champions of Change.
As workplaces continue to evolve, hopefully the conversation moves away from “having it all” to one about how both sexes can work towards a happy work/life balance.