With last week's announcement of new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, the balance tips in executive women's favor as another power female takes the reins in Silicon Valley.
But the conversation isn't focused on Mayer's accomplishments as a leader or what she'll need to do in order to turn Yahoo! around. Rather, we've heard more about her pregnancy and plans to work through maternity leave (who cares?) than her capabilities to lead the internet giant (they're impressive).
If Mayer were a man, would the baby bump or who will take care of the kid even be part of the discussion? Nope. And so here we are again, coming back to the question that's taken on a life of its own -- can women really have it all?
In her Atlantic Magazine piece, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," Anne-Marie Slaughter gives one to the other team, arguing that we should stop fooling ourselves; work-life balance is a myth. Meanwhile, CEO of 20-first Avivah Wittenberg-Cox contends that this debate is dated. It's not women who need to choose, it's the business. After all, the smart ones realize the power of a company culture that supports work-life balance -- it benefits both women and men alike, while supercharging the bottom line.
But it's Sarah Green who really sums it up well in her recent Harvard Business Review blog, explaining that "being pregnant is the least of Mayer's challenges." She's got to turn around a troubled company that's been in a downward spiral for quite some time, or in the very least, revive its reputation, which many critics say just cannot be done.
As Mayer sets out to do the supposed undoable, I agree that the "having it all" debate is indeed getting old (and quite frankly, irritating). It seems to me many top executive women have made the decision to not have children and instead, focus their energy and attention on furthering their careers. So what? Likewise, there are women with large families who are incredibly comfortable -- and successful -- in their seats at the kitchen table as they are in the corner office. Kudos to them too.
In one of my previous blogs, Sandra Peterson, CEO of Bayer CropScience said "it's about sacrifices and trade-offs," and from her point of view, "you can't have complete work/life balance."
And according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, women don't have it all. Hewlett's research shows that "49 percent of ultra-achieving career women (earning more than $100,000) ages 41-55 are childless, 33 percent of (earning $55,000-$66,000) ages 41-55 are childless and 57 percent are unmarried."
Moreover, several scholars have shown that moms pay for their nurturing nature in the workplace. One study determined that mothers endure a wage penalty of 5 percent for every child they have. That's on top of the gender penalty (which ranges from 5-9 percent depending which study you look at) and after controlling for education, experience, race and other factors. I call that bias.
But the good news -- despite the numbers -- is that we're seeing more examples emerging of women who aren't putting their families (or life outside of the executive suite) on hold to flourish in their careers. Just look at Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer who became the first woman on its board of directors, and Indra Nooyi, the PepsiCo CEO who comments openly about the balancing act while staying at the helm of the second largest food and beverage business in the world.
As Hewlett's research suggests, however, we're in dire need of more Sanbergs, Mayers and Nooyis and the number of women executives who "have it all" is still quite sparse.
This is not just a gender issue nor is it a question of commitment. In the end, it may just be a simple fact of life that we can have it all, just not at the same time.
This article first appeared on Forbes.com.
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