Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Why women can’t have it all

I’m always somewhat tetchy and faintly amused when I hear a woman exclaim, “Why can’t we have it all?”

The “all” typically refers to a high-powered corporate career, a loving husband, kids, and lots of family time.

I inwardly roll my eyes when I hear this, and unless I’m keeping silent for the sake of being polite, my automatic (inward) response is “Because there are only 24 hours in one day, and even high-powered career women have to abide by the laws of physics.”

Is it really so hard to understand this? Sure, everyone wants to have it all, but we can’t always get what we want. Nor are we always willing to pay the price involved.

An ambitious corporate climber necessarily needs to spend long hours on the job to rack up the skills, experience, contacts and achievements that are required for what we commonly deem ‘success’. This is generally NOT compatible with work-life balance. Rightly or not, men have traditionally been able to achieve success because their wives were pulling their weight at home. But now that dual-income couples are the norm, few people are able to devote themselves single-mindedly to their careers, and nor do many people actually want to.

For the single woman, leaving aside all the chauvinistic drivel of men being threatened by successful women, working long hours just means that it’s that much harder to date. And just as women audition men on the basis of them being good providers, don’t you think men also audition women on the basis of them being good mothers and nurturers?

When we consider married career women, we are faced with a special conundrum. Working mothers crave both career success but want the same amount of mother-child quality time or bonding typically available to stay-at-home mothers. Hello? Earth to working mothers? Remember that there are only 24 hours in one day?

I’m single, holding a job with very regular and normal (45-50 hour weeks) hours, no commute (I walk), a less-than-happening social life, and even I find myself strapped for time sometimes. 50 hours for work, 10 hours for running (~70 km a week), 15 hours studying for a distance learning course, family time, blogging, reading, the occasional night out with friends … the time each week just goes.

Is it really impossible to have it “all”? No, just not “all at the same time”, or at the same high intensity.

You can be the best career woman, and the best mother, but not at the same time. You can have a great career, with a so-so family life, or the converse, but you probably can’t have both.

I think many women instinctively understand this. One possible explanation for why there are so few women at the top of the corporate ladder is not the glass ceiling, or the lack of female capability, but an unwillingness to make the sacrifices required to gain something that may be of questionable value. Women could be just as capable as men, but feel that the view from the top a’int worth the pain of the climb.

And they could be right. The ironic thing is, it’s usually the more visibly capable career women who don’t get this, and as a result, question “Why can’t we have it all?”

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