8 Ways to Erase the “Can Women Have It All?” Question

If it’s so darn hard to be a parent and a CEO, why doesn’t Indra Nooyi resign from PepsiCo?Nooyi, who receives high marks as a CEO, fell several notches in my estimation as a leader who apparently doesn’t realize the impact her words will have on younger women’s aspirations. And don’t even talk to me about Anne-Marie Slaughter, who firestarted the debate with her incendiary article that got her a tidy book advance and left many women smoldering with guilt. I am so done with her whining about “not having it all” when the rest of us have a mighty hard time mustering sympathy for her life as a tenured professor married to another tenured professor.I mean, really. All of life for everyone, men and women, is a series of choices. No one has it all, all the time. Everyone has to make decisions about what is important to him or her daily.But men are never, ever asked whether they can be good parents and CEOs at the same time. I am boycotting The Atlantic, which keeps publishing this tired trope. Let’s not feed the beast.Let’s have some positive advice for a change.To be sure, Indra Nooya comes from a culture where she is grappling with traditional role expectations. And even women who grew up in the US and Europe face implicit bias in the workplace and often at home. Women have come far and fast. We are in an unfinished revolution, on an easily interrupted path toward gender parity in leadership. So how do we deal with it?Instead of handwringing, let’s share with women and men how they can have a life and earn a living, including as fulfilling, high powered career as they want.I decided to look for helpful advice from the likes of executive coach Kathy Caprino, who like me is sick and tired of stories that tell women they can’t have it all, and worries that these narratives place enormous and unnecessary emotional burdens on women who are already struggling to define their lives and careers.Caprino gives four wise pointers:

  • Understand that your career – and your life – has seasons. It’s not just all about today—you can have multiple opportunities to fulfill what is most meaningful to you.
  • Be vigilant about how you talk about, your life and career – the lens you use to see it through, and the language you use to describe it—those words have consequences for yourself and others.
  • Third—and I think this one is really key—build a support network and get help when you need it.
  • And finally, stop comparing yourself with others. It’s your life after all. If it makes you happy, who cares what others are doing?

Anna CatalanoAnna Catalano, a businesswoman who blogs about leadership, tweeted me a link to her post with four more points of sage advice:

  • The household works on a partnership.  If a woman is holding an incredibly demanding job, then maybe she shouldn’t be made to feel like she has to pick up all the groceries on the way home.  Of course no one can “take the place” of a mother.  But the role of mother doesn’t mean she has to do 100% of everything at home.  Husbands and partners need to be willing to cook, clean, iron, run errands, give baths, and help with homework.
  • The kids need to understand the program.  Kids at a young age will realize that yours is not a “traditional” family.  It’s okay.  They turn out fine.  In fact, kids from these families develop a wonderful set of values that men and women are capable of doing all kinds of things.  What a novel idea.  Mom can work in a business just like dad can, and dad can cook dinner just like mom!  Boys and girls who grow up in this environment have a healthy outlook on gender issues, feel loved by both of their parents, and don’t get hung up on whether someone is there for every soccer game or school play.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself.  Popular culture places incredible pressure on what a woman is supposed to do.  If we’re executives, we’re supposed to be a darling of Wall Street.  At the same time, we’re led to think we have to run a household like Mary Poppins, be a homemaker to rival Martha Stewart, while all the time, look like the cover of a fashion magazine.  Stop feeling guilty about not doing everything perfectly.
  • Ask for help when needed.  It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a privilege that you have earned!  Hire someone to do the things you’d rather not do.  It might be housecleaning, it might be yard work, it might be cooking.  Doing this does not make you a bad wife or mother.  And don’t let anyone make you feel that way.  You are doing amazing things, and you deserve some help.

What about you?Tell us: What tips do you have for women AND men who love their work and love their families and intend to have satisfying lives with both?How can we erase the limiting “Can You Have It All?” framing and turn the question into a celebration of the choices we have today as women and as leaders?

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