So I picked up the Saturday paper yesterday and my interest was piqued by the cover story in The Good Weekend on the newly named CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer. Any CEO of a Fortune 500 company would make an interesting cover story. The fact that Marissa is 37 and one of only 20 female CEO’s in the F500 makes her more interesting to many. The fact that she announced her pregnancy shortly after accepting the role, and that she is now a new mother have made this the story of the moment for many.
Now of course, the main discussion that has surrounded her since she was announced in the role has been whether she can or cannot have it all. Little talk of her ability to do a small thing like, you know, be the CEO of a major global company and do the job, at a time when the Yahoo stock price continues to flounder. She is exceptionally well qualified, has a stellar background and is well regarded by those who have worked for her. But let’s focus on her gender and motherhood status anyway shall we? Much more interesting.
Whilst this particular article did give line space to her qualifications, her background, and the perception around her ability to perform the role she has been hired for, many recent articles have not. And the question that might bug me more than any other, is the question of whether seeing her succeed or fail may finally lay to rest for all women everywhere whether women can or cannot have it all. No pressure then, and what a ridiculous premise to begin with.
Enough already. We want gender equality, and yet we think it is alright to lay these pressures, and even the question, at high profile women’s feet, of whether they can have it all and how this will somehow change the fate of working women all over the world. Like we will all simply wake up one day and say “oh well she did it/didn’t do it, so now we have the answer for everyone, hallelujah”. We rarely ask a man whether he can have it all and you wouldn’t see an article on the front page of the paper talking about it (I might just have to write one). But I can tell you from the men that I have asked whether they think they do or don’t have it all, that their answer is usually a big fat no. Yes they may have the career and the family, but if you ask most men if they would like more time with their kids, more time for pleasurable pursuits, or anything other than being at the office, it is the rare man who would say no. And while we are at it, we also do not make ridiculous statements such as if this man is successful, it will determine the fate of all men. Just writing that you realise how proposterous that sounds – why would we lay this on women – and mostly by other women? It’s just crazy.
In my newly released book Getting Real About Having It All, I pretty much say enough already – actually that is exactly what I say. I get asked constantly whether you can or can’t have it all, particularly now I have authored a book of this title. The reason I chose this title (or it chose me I think) is that I believe it is time to stop listening to everyone else’s opinion of what our lives should look like, and decide for ourselves what we want. You can have it all. You can’t have it all. You can have it all but not at the same time. Who is anyone else to decide for you what you do or don’t want, what you can or can’t have, and when you can or cannot have it. My book is focussed on the getting real part. You decide what you want, and I will help you work out how to create that for yourself.
Until we stop writing articles that put the main focus on gender and parental status, and placing the perceived success of an entire gender on the success or failure of a few women who choose to have incredibly high profile roles whilst being mothers (and power to them), we will never move forward in our pursuit of the gender equality so many are working so hard to achieve. Let Marissa succeed or fail on her own terms, in her own time, and let her determine what having it all looks like for her and only her. And let all other women do the same. Then and only then might we move past this discussion that cannot possibly do anything other make women feel inadequate, and on to more important things that actually empower and inspire us all to live our best lives.