March is women’s history month, and there are currently more female-owned businesses than ever before in the American workforce. "Having it all" was one of the first empowering messages that helped redefine the role of woman, but for some this cornucopia of to-dos and sea change in the workplace has complicated work-life balance.
Is it possible? Is it a myth? What is about gender roles that we can’t seem to stop talking about?
In anticipation of #CreateCultivateSXSW, we checked in with some of our panelists to find out what having it all means to the modern working woman, especially when “normal working hours can sometimes become all of the hours.”
LET'S START WITH THE BASICS. WHAT DOES 'HAVING IT ALL' MEAN TO YOU?
Silvie Snow-Thomas, Director of Strategy, Elle Communications : 'Having it all' suggests that we can get everything in both our personal and our professional lives that we think we want at the exact time we want it. What women have been striving for, for generations, is having the same range of opportunities to choose from as men – if a man stays late at the office for example, does he face the same pressure of getting home to his spouse or kids as he would if were a woman?
Julie Hays Geer, Director of Partnerships, Laurel & Wolf: In terms of what it's "supposed to mean," I see it, for a woman, as being able to have a career and family simultaneously.
Bianca Caampued, Co-Founder, Small Girls PR : 'Having it all' is being being happy with everything that you have going on in your life - both personally and professionally. When someone asks you how your day was, your answer is always, "Today was the best day ever."
Sarah Kunst, Founder, PRODAY: It means choosing a life you want to live on your own terms. I ignore other people's definitions of 'it all' and the timelines or "how it's supposed to look" that others might want me to adopt. 'Having it all' means being happy with my life and how I fill my time day to day. If I can do that, I'm winning.
HAS THE IDEA SHIFTED AS YOU'VE GOTTEN OLDER? FROM EARLY TWENTIES-NOW?
Gabby Etrog-Cohen, SVP PR & Brand Strategy SoulCycle: In my early twenties, 'having it all' was a great job, a sick handbag, good hair, a decent body and a boyfriend. It's funny, I don't think about having it all now.
Silvie: As I’ve gotten older, the balance I crave has shifted toward striving for a combination of great friendships, quality time with my partner, enlightening adventures and figuring out how to excel in my career. Oh, and sleep.
Julie: My view has shifted as I've gotten older, and my perspective now is to be able to have what makes you happy - whether that's a job and family, a freelance lifestyle, or the ability to travel frequently.
Silvie: I think an important distinction for all women is to separate the idea of 'having it all' from "having it all at the same time."
DO YOU THINK YOUR "ALL" IS SIMILAR OR DIFFERENT, TO SAY, YOUR MOTHER'S GENERATION? WHY?
Gabby: My mother worked two jobs-- she ran central intake at an inpatient mental institution and had a private psychotherapy practice at night, and was an incredible mother. So she was juggling just as many balls as I am BUT, when she was home, she was home. No emailing, no conference calls...there is a different sense of connectivity, of always-on-culture that exists today that never existed for our parents.
Silvie: My mother’s generation of women who came of age just before and after Title 9 and Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act, and they faced much more overt discrimination and blatant sexism than we younger women do.
Julie: The opportunities for women are greater now. Perhaps it's all relative, but with more opportunity there's more "all" to have. Which makes having it that much harder.
Bianca: I think that having it "all" used to involve starting and supporting a family, but you can have it all without that; it depends on what your priorities are in life.
Silvie: Another thing to consider: in our mothers’ generation, there were rarely female bosses. This new(er) paradigm has begun to change things, but I think we’re all still striving for more of this storied work-life balance, and as women we still are working to end discrimination, however subtle it may be, in hiring and advancement.
Gabby: I am definitely less present with my children, sadly, then my mother was with me and I have to try really hard to disconnect when I am home.
Sarah: My "all" is personal. It's not going to look the same as another woman's now or in the past or future. It shouldn't. When 'having it all' means "having all that someone else wants you to have," you're failing.
DO YOU EVER FEEL THE PRESSURE OF PERFORMING BOTH GENDER ROLES SIMULTANEOUSLY?
Silvie: Overall I think the societal pressure now imposed on women (and men) to work longer hours and be essentially on-call all of the time in professional jobs, while still ensuring the quality of work is exceptional, has made work life more stressful on women whether they work in a mixed gender environment or work in a female-run firm. The way of our world is for everyone, especially if you work in client services, to work harder and to ask for more.
Julie: I didn't come from a household of gender role norms, so this isn't a mindset I grew up within. My dad ironed, both parents were home on different nights to cook dinner for the kids. I started my career in a predominantly female industry with great female role models. I recognize the issues at hand for our society, but in my day to day life I luckily don't feel this pressure.
Bianca: By cultural definitions I guess the answer is yes, but I can be pretty androgynous in style and I think that translates to personality. I don't usually think about things falling into gender role categories - it's just a role. Societal constructs have labeled certain actions or personality traits as skewing male or female, but I'm just doing things that need to get done or based on my intuitive reaction.
Gabby: I don't really think about gender roles. I am constantly striving to be a good person. Not a good woman.
ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH THE TIME-MACHO CONCEPT? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT? WHAT DO YOU THINK NEEDS TO CHANGE IN THE AMERICAN WORKPLACE FOR WOMEN?
Silvie: I am. I believe the term was coined by Anne-Marie Slaughter, who went from an academic job at Princeton to the State Department as Under Secretary for Policy for Hillary Clinton. I agree with Slaughter that the intense competition to demonstrate one’s professional value by working longer hours, having more “face time,” doing more travel, etc. is wearing professional workers down physically and mentally just as stagnant wages and on-demand scheduling is harming lower income workers.
Sarah: Some women want to be a slave to their job and some men want way more free time. The problem is finding a job and work culture that fits what you want out of life and if you do choose to work the 80+ hour workweek, making sure that you're actually producing valuable work and not just amping up face time.
Gabby: I fall prey to that as well. But the truth is, it's OK to go home, take time for yourself and then go back to work, versus staying at the office until midnight without a break. As a mother, I have learned to be incredibly resourceful with my time. I make every single minute count. I just don't have the luxury to waste time. So if I am getting a manicure, I am on a conference call at the same time.
Bianca: Boundaries are extremely important and time in the workplace isn't everything. Time in life, however, is everything. All we really have is time, and it's precious and should be protected, not racked up as a currency for worth in the workplace.
Sarah: We need room for much more broad roles in society and work than "men love working and women want time off to see their families." We need to allow everyone to be their real selves at work and have the roles and flexibility that allow for more than one kind of job or worker.
Silvie: I think a lot of my friends in the same age bracket have been working like this since we were in our early 20s. In the U.S. the number of salaried workers clocking 50 or more house per week has grown steadily since the 1970s when 9-5, 40-hour work weeks were the norm.
Bianca: I don't believe that putting in more time or all-nighters in the workplace means more value.
Silvie: The technology we have today allows for a great flexibility, but the flip side of that is "normal working hours" can sometimes become all of the hours. Here’s one thing I’ve learned slash have been forced to understand: sleep is crucial to clear thinking, and to keeping your passion and energy levels high.
Bianca: The most important thing is trying to manage time so you're not putting in all of those additional hours at work, yet are still maintaining productivity, while allowing space for your personal needs.
IS WORK-LIFE BALANCE A REALITY OR MYTH IN OUR ON-DEMANDS WORK ECONOMY?
Julie: I like to think of it more as needing to have a separation between the two vs. a balance.
Silvie: I wonder often, is there a way we can change the mindset in this fast-paced economy and always-connected life to concentrate first and foremost on people’s long-term health and to ensure continued creativity? Can we measure productivity and product quality differently to ensure continued success but also to ensure peace of mind?
Julie: When you spend 5 out of 7 days each week at a job, that's not balance.
Bianca: I often say it doesn't exist, from my own personal experience, but there is a part of me that has hope it is real.
Julie: Striving to not always bring your work home with you, or taking time to shut down and live your life without checking your email on the weekends, that separation can be a reality.
Gabby: There is no such thing as work-life balance. At least, I don't think so. There is integration. Some days I bring my kids to work. Some days I have conference calls from home. Some days I am failing as a mom, some days I am failing at work and some days I am failing at everything! But, then there are those days when you think, damn, I can actually do this.
Sarah: For those not in poverty, work-life balance is more about the choices we make and relentlessly pursuing the life and lifestyle we want. Balance doesn't mean a 9-5 job for most of us, it means having the space to be human.
Arianna Schioldager is Create & Cultivate's editorial director. You can find her on IG @ariannawrotethis and more about her at www.ariannawrotethis.com