Why We Don’t Need Any More Female Billionaires Telling Us How to ‘Have it All’
4:45 pm, March 19th | by Colette McIntyre
On Tuesday, Forbes published an interview with Ilene Gordon, the 59-year-old CEO of publicly traded Ingredion, a global ingredient manufacturer, and one of the just twenty-one women leading a Fortune 500 company. In the interview, Gordon talks about leading Ingredion to “explosive growth,” the company’s re-branding, and utilizing her science background in the business world. Then It Happens, the question that all successful businesswomen with children must face: how does she “have it all?” (Or, as this piece phrases it, “you must have figured out the ‘have-it-all’ conundrum.”)
While Gordon’d advice is fine, albeit not particularly groundbreaking — “There was never a choice of career vs. family. I was going to do both,” “I’m a big believer in delegation and being organized,” “You have to have a plan” — I’ve reached my billionaire breaking point. I’ve had it with “having it all.”
Sure, I, like many women, celebrated Marissa Mayer’s high-profile pregnancy and Sheryl Sandberg’s mantra of “leaning in” but maybe we don’t need any more billionaires weighing in on how to have it all. Why is the conversation being restricted to Mayer and Sandberg’s demographic, i.e. privileged, educated white women with supportive, working husbands and the resources to afford help at home? In her response to the “having it all question,” Gordon admits that her family “had a backup nanny, and a backup to the backup.” Is this the only path to balancing career and a family? Will we ever acknowledge that some women don’t have any other options, that they have to work to support their family regardless of missed little league games or growing piles of laundry? While the work/life balance of a supermarket manager may not be glamorous, the conundrum exists for them too.
The myth of “having it all” fails to take into consideration that women are set up to fail, with our society suggesting that they could’ve had it all only if they had tried harder or made more effective decisions or lived their lives in the right way. As Salon‘s Rebecca Traister wrote in response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now infamous Atlantic cover story:
We should immediately strike the phrase “have it all” from the feminist lexicon and never, ever use it again…It is a trap, a setup for inevitable feminist short-fall. Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the “have it all” formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it’s feminism – as opposed to persistent gender inequity – that’s to blame.
We should be interested in whether all workers feel happy and fulfilled, not just mega-successful women. We should ask male CEOs and male entrepreneurs how they manage to balance their careers with being fathers, how they stay on top of household chores while still turning in timely status reports since, you know, men should be participating in domestic labor and parenting as well. By showing overt concern for working mothers and not working fathers, we are normalizing divisions of labor and persistent gender inequities.
Let’s refocus the discussion: let’s talk about the sacrifices we all must make for our careers, whether we are women, men, parents, childless, old or young. Let’s think about broader, structural changes that can be made to the workplace. Let’s stop making our concern contingent on a businessperson’s gender. And let’s give female CEOs a break — I’m sure they are exhausted.