Women can be CEO and 'have it all' - Women's Agenda

Women can be CEO and ‘have it all’

It seems that the question on whether women can ‘have it all” is one that may never disappear as long as women are in the workplace.

Frankly, I am getting rather tired of this question and even more so when successful women who are role models to many come out and say, “No, women can’t have it all”.

What does ‘having it all’ actually mean? Whose standard of ‘having it all’ are we aspiring to?

Why is it that we don’t ask this question of men? In fact, when was the last time anyone asked Richard Branson if he can have it all?

I wonder if we, as women, are benchmarking ourselves against men in regards to this concept. And if that is the case then let me tell you. men don’t ‘have it all’ either.

As a CEO, single mum, author, speaker and founder of a not for profit, I can categorically tell you, “Yes, I can have it all” — according to what I want. I may not be able to have it all at the same time. But frankly who can, not even men.

The CEO of Pepsi recently revealed in an interview that her mum was not that impressed with her success and appointment as CEO at Pepsi.

I related to this story, I too am an Indian woman who chose to go back to work after having children. I had dreams of having a successful career, of being a trailblazer and being recognised for the achievements I have had in business. There are many Indian women in business. But there are many also whose family have expected them to take the more traditional role of wife, mother and carer.

For years my mum showed no interest in my career, what I did or my successes as she was far too busy telling me how poor a mum I was because my kids were in childcare and I had chosen to go back to work. I don’t think she understands even today what it is that I do.

For many years I wanted my parents to be proud of me, to recognise my achievements and celebrate my milestones. For a long time it frustrated me, even made me angry that they didn’t see any of this.

However, there came a point in my life where the lightbulb went on and I realised that they were never going to get it and I needed to start achieving milestones for myself.

When I won the Victorian Telstra Business Woman awards in 2013 my parents were both there. No they didn’t understand what the achievement really meant or my journey but the fact they were there and proud of me, was enough. That award was personal: it was for me, not anyone else.

My kids went to childcare, I only did tuckshop once the entire time both my kids were at school, I was the school council president, I forgot to pick my son up from school often, I didn’t get to every school play or activity. Was there guilt around the things I couldn’t get to? Yes, there was at the start, but I learned to put the guilt aside and

instead focus on the key things in my kid’s lives that I could participate in that were important to them.

Now I am a single mum to teenage children and it does not get any easier. The demands they have are different. I have a strict routine: start early, finish early, no meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday after 4.30 as I have to take my son to tennis and footy training. On both Saturday and Sunday I am the taxi driver, spending up to five hours driving him around to various activities.

I don’t work every night and I don’t work every weekend. I have friends I go out with and on the odd occasion I may even go out on a date (that’s a whole other article).

My daughter was asked the question the other day: “who is your role model?” She took a long time to think about the answer, I expected it to be Oprah or Hilary Clinton but her answer was her mum. And that was enough for me to know that the choices I had made were right.

In terms of my career, well it keeps getting better and better. I am leading a company that is in growth mode, the brand equity is at an all-time high and this has occurred under my leadership.

I am seen as an industry leader, commentator, disrupter and agitator — all titles I am very comfortable with.

I am being asked to speak at conferences and forums about the Sadhana Smiles journey, my views on leadership and whether women can ‘have it all’.

So what does having it all actually mean?

Well, I believe I do have it all and to me it means the following; I have a family (children) that love each other unconditionally, friends who are loyal and honest and a career that is fulfilling. I have the ability to achieve what I want to, without detriment to those around me, I have the ability to give back and positively impact many lives.

This question –- “can we have it all” — is becoming rhetoric and I question whether it is getting in the way. Does it make us doubt our own capabilities as women and what we can achieve?

If you asked me the question, “What sacrifices have I made or what would I change”, my answer would be nothing.

I don’t see the choices I made with my partner and my children as sacrifices. They were the best choices to be made at the time given the circumstances. If, given the choice, would I attend more reading classes with my kids at school? No I wouldn’t. Does that make me a bad mother? No it doesn’t.

What we have to be careful of is that we don’t take this statement or question of ‘can women have it all’ and apply a generic standard to it.

Having it all is different to each and every one of us, and if we can have it all in each of the areas that are important to us then the answer is a resounding YES!

Remember that you are not going to wake up one morning and say: Yes I can tick those final boxes, now I have it all!

Having it all is the journey of life. It is a culmination of achievements both business and personal, things that are important to you and those around you.

When I draw my last breath I will do so knowing that I have done exactly what it was that I wanted to. That to me is having it all!

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