Late last night I was surfing online and came across this interview by PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi. A woman I have long admired for being a great role model for minority women like myself, I was stunned/disappointed/semi-crushed to hear the painful truth that “women can’t have it all”. We pretend we have it all, but in the end in order for us to stay sane and productive at the same time and do what we can “to make it work”- it takes a village. In order for us women with multiple roles to survive the daily grind of home and professional lives, we need the support of those around us, a helping hand/s to nudge us in days that are simply too tough to manage. Easier for a CEO who can afford extra help to say, I think. But then again, she’s also being realistic and talked extensively about the role of own mother in her balancing act. She also talked about coping mechanisms, of how we women can delegate some roles for others around us fulfill, rally their support and build a team to accomplish our goals. Again, no perfect equation here, but her examples of how she has learned to cope to diminish her sense of mommy guilt, open up a new perspective for me.
As a society we have come to define “having it all” in a man’s term- wealth, prestige, standing, and number of DRs (direct reports) as my husband would say. As a minority woman, I think we need to rethink, reevaluate and challenge how society has long accepted this norm. I may not “have it all” in a man’s eyes, but I feel otherwise. In my own struggle of defining success and what it means to be a modern day woman, I have come to realize that “having it all” is a transient state, oftentimes fleeting and insecure. There are productive days when can I smugly claim the titles supermom (e.g. finishing chores and no drama with the kids) and superscholar (e.g. writing a tight piece for publication in a few hours). But then there are also rough days when I barely make it to the end of the day without feelings of self-doubt, guilt and pity taking over me.
For the past few years, I have lived in this illusion or bubble if you will that women CAN have it all. Though my own research and dissertation have suggested otherwise, I still refuse to believe that women can’t create the path towards our own version of success and what it means to have it all. Recently, I had a conversation with a male colleague in academia going up for tenure. While we had a good talk about career path and progression, I could feel his unspoken sympathy and regret for my inability to “have it all”. I could tell that he was mentally thinking, I have the drive and dream, yet I don’t have the opportunity to showcase it all because I am pulled to the home. I left feeling sad, but at the same time, strangely understood. And I wonder why with the vast amount of research on leaky pipelines and mommy track in both academia and industry, women with multiple roles are still at a standstill figuratively and literally. Why can’t the momentum of the women’s movement continue amidst various social changes in our society today? Why do we succumb to the whims and desires of patriarchal norms? I wish I know the answers, but I remain hopeful and even idealistic that we will find ways to have it all- in our own terms.