Can Women Have It All?

Hell, no, but neither can any man I know

by Robin Pedrelli

I attended the recent Diversity Women Leadership Conference and was faced with the question, “Can women have it all?” This debate will likely rage on for decades, and we’re all tired of it. The vogue response has changed from “yes” to “no” to “yes, but not all at the same time.” Successful career women have been both applauded and beaten up for their response. I propose that we stop asking the question. Life-career-parenthood is a series of compromises and choices. Whether you are a working mother, a working father, or an unattached single person, it’s impossible to have it all. You can’t work 60 hours a week without giving something up. You can’t even work 20 hours a week without giving something up.

Why are women the only ones who have to deliberate this question? This is sexist and insulting to men and women. Men have choices too and have to make decisions that impact their career and family. I’m thinking that most fathers who spend more than 60 percent of their time at work don’t have it all.

We need to give up on the notion of having it all. We can be great parents and great at our careers and still not have it all. We can feel inadequate and guilty and still be great parents and great at our jobs. We might miss a birthday or a school play in order to close a big deal or meet an important deadline. We might miss a meeting in order to be home when we’re truly needed there. The secret is give and take and knowing how to juggle priorities.

It’s time to put this debate to bed and, quite frankly, totally reframe the question: “What do I want and how do I get it?” Everyone needs to ask that question, whether you are a man or woman, whether you are a working mother, a stay-at-home father, or a single career-minded individual. Relish in the fact that we have choices and our ability to compromise enables us to craft lives with meaning. Those trade-offs are part of life and work and that’s okay. We can excel in some parts of our life and fall a little short in others, knowing that next week we can make up for it.

A wonderful tool shared at the event is the 10-10-10 rule, originated by Suzy Welch. When agonizing over tough decisions, take a moment and ask yourself the following.

• How will I feel/what are the consequences 10 minutes from now?
• How about 10 months from now?
• How about 10 years from now?

This allows us to step back and revisit our priorities, consider the long-term consequences, and gain clarity of thought.

We need to start thinking about women’s careers in the same way we think about men’s careers. We need to start making the working father as much a part of the conversation and the solution as the working mother. Can women have it all? Hell, no. But neither can any man I know. Maintaining the facade that men don’t have these same choices is detrimental to the success and happiness of both men and women. DW

Robin Pedrelli is the cofounder and partner of VisionSpring Inc, a women-owned and -operated diversity and  inclusion consulting firm.

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