I was slogging out some miles on the treadmill recently when I got to thinking again about the “Women-Can/Can’t-Have-It-All” debate. On the Lifetime Fitness (LTF) TV monitor appeared a promotional video for “CEO Challenges,” which claims to be a race for CEOs, C-suite executives, and entrepreneurs and promises opportunities for networking and deal-making. In the video, you’ll see only men though. Correction: I did see one woman, though she didn’t appear to be a participant—I think she was handing out hydration drinks.
But it got me wondering, did women participate in this event? (I couldn’t find the gym-version online, but here is a similar video. Same idea.) Discussions about women in the workplace have recently taken on a ubiquitous presence: from The Atlantic Monthly to Time Magazine to MPR (last Friday’s Roundtable), from news about the decisions by Yahoo! to Best Buy to eliminate work from home options. As a professional with three 3 children, I’m inclined to think about this topic a lot anyway, and indeed have given it considerable thought ever since the birth of my first child nearly 10 years ago when I was practicing law at a Minneapolis firm.
Three things come to mind: 1) how incomplete the definition of “all” is, 2) how these issues likewise impact men; and 3) and how lucky some of us are to be sitting around scratching our heads as to how to have it “all.”
“All” is incomplete. Let’s be honest, there is more to life than work and children. As we consider whether women can have it “all,” the current discussion is centered almost exclusively on work and kids. This framework assumes that we are two-dimensional—that we are either working or taking care of our families. While many days it may feel that is all we do, the additional challenge is unleashing the other parts of who we are and who we were before work and family became central.
Whether its exercise, sports, travel, art, practicing our faith, volunteering our time, we are, in fact, multi-dimensional creatures (or least we used to be pre-career and kids). Creating a life that supports the various aspects of our person is critical. Left to pursue primarily two parts to our lives, the other parts are woefully under-cultivated, resulting in imbalance that promises physical, mental and spiritual deficits. Just as the natural environment requires bio-diversity to be healthy and sustainable, so to do our lives. Perhaps we call it “vita-diversity”—a diverse life.
I know many female executives, including myself, for whom exercise is a very important part of their lives. They, like their male counterparts, thrive on competition, endurance and pushing their own limits. (A nod to LTF here, who, in my experience, is supportive of women in their races and at their clubs. The CEO Challenge is a new offering for them, and I’m sure they’ll figure out how to fine tune its promotion.) Of course, finding the time to train, whether male or female, is probably a bigger challenge than the race itself.
Men grapple with similar issues. My husband, an attorney, made this comment after a series of 12-16- hour workdays: “I want to find more time to enjoy my life.” The operative word: enjoy. A devout fisherman, his challenge this winter was to go ice-fishing more than he did last year (which was not at all). He’s risen to that challenge now twice, with our 4-year old in tow both times.
A recent study confirms men stress about the work/family balance too: 50% of men surveyed report that it is “very” or “somewhat” difficult to manage both work and family responsibilities. The discussion of women in the workplace can and should stand on its own, but a comprehensive debate must include the impact on men. After all, they are half the picture, and they are a significant part of our lives, whether husbands (or ex-husbands), son-in-laws, brothers, sons or grandsons.
How lucky we are. Finally, let’s recognize there are those women, men and families, whose challenge is surviving life, let alone enjoying it. Getting enough food on the table, keeping the heat on and having access to basic medical care are among their challenges.
Let’s be keenly aware of how incredibly lucky those of us are who wrestle with these issues: “How am I going to find time to exercise today” is a very different question than “How am I going to feed my kids today?”
I’m delighted the work/family discussion is present right now. My hope is that it continues, contemplating a broader definition of “having it all,” how men likewise wrestle with these issues, though perhaps in different ways, and how fortunate we are to be having this discussion in the first place.
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