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Why should a woman want to have it all?

Indra Nooyi (CEO, Pepsi) set the ball rolling with her controversial statement “A woman cannot have it all”. Anuranjita Kumar(Chief Human Resources Officer for Citi, South East Asia) came next with her book, “Can I have it all?”

Both the women are highly successful in their careers, but have raised a question mark in the minds of the less fortunate.

“Is pursuing professional success worth the effort? Should women aim at reaching the peak, at the cost of their personal lives?”

A man is never besieged by guilt, because he has been wired to think that his success lies in being a producer of wealth, for the business, and for the family. The physical aspects of motherhood and security concerns in an unsafe location, are the only two factors that differentiate the genders. Yet, the burden of guilt is disproportionately tilted on one side. The factors of mobility, flexitime, domestic help, day-care facilities, family support, needs of the elderly at home impact both in a similar manner, and require similar solutions. We do come across the occasional guy, who says that he missed out on the childhood of his offspring, due to preoccupation with work. But he is smugly content, that his other half has amply compensated for the same.

The woman’s guilt stems from a conditioning that she is solely responsible for the family’s day-to-day needs. The complexity increases with an interplay of the following factors:

  • Increased competition and a limited size of the pie at work, has led to male-dominated lobbies, which actively protect their own interest. The women have to expend additional energy and effort, to fight these forces.

  • All the men in decision-making positions may not have had working wives and mothers. They are unable to relate to the issues.

  • There are very few role models to be emulated.

  • Each family and workplace has a unique set of problems, which need a customised solution. This reduces the scalability of women-friendly policies.

  • Since we are living in a transitional phase, the success of women is often attributed to a male mentor. This could be due to the fact, that those who are in a position to help, are all male. Women leaders may have mentored several men, but are rarely given credit for the same.

  • There are a few women who demand more than they contribute. These negative cases work to the detriment of the sincere female employees. Stereotypes are created and propagated, as per administrative and political convenience.


In the course of my corporate, consulting and coaching journey, I've interacted with several women. Broadly, one can classify them into the following types.

  • Pedigreed corporate professionals, who hail from top-notch educational institutions

  • Women who start at the top in family businesses

  • Women in the glamor industry

  • Women who work for a social cause (Some of them hail from wealthy families, working to further the CSR cause of their husband’s or father’s business)

  • Women with a drive, who have embraced challenging careers, needing a lot of mobility and flexibility (like journalism, filmmaking etc).

  • The social or political activists (feminism is just one part of it)

  • The academic community of teachers/writers, who also espouse a social cause

  • The large majority of working women from junior to mid-level positions, who do not have the resources (influence, opportunities or support) to reach the higher brackets. They have either not been conditioned, or have forgotten to aim high.

  • Women on a break, wanting to return to the workforce

The last constitutes the most interesting case. While the drive to do something is admirable, the lack of opportunities for the well-qualified and experienced is glaring.

The reasons for giving up full time, corporate careers are varied.

  • Marriage

  • Motherhood

  • Relocation of the spouse

  • Care of the elderly

  • A losing battle with a psychopath or womaniser boss

  • Denial of plum assignments or promotions

  • Inconvenient transfers

  • Long working hours

  • Time-consuming commutes to work

Part-time, flexible and work-from-home opportunities are few and far between. This segment is being targeted by employers, but largely as a cost-saving measure.

  • They save on overhead costs of running an office.

  • The low compensation paid to women with a high degree of talent and experience, borders on exploitation.

  • Freelancer compensation lacks a fixed element, which they need to pay a regular employee.

Women are yet to learn the art of negotiating money. I frequently come across the following statements:

  • I work for satisfaction, not money.

  • My husband/father is doing pretty well.

  • I have no clue on the market rates in this line of work.

These mind-sets work to the advantage of employers, and the scenario will not change in absence of a regulatory framework for employment in this sector.


Let us examine all sides of the coin, while reading or listening to celebrities. Read between the lines.

Indra Nooyi and Anuranjita Kumar have had more resources than the average woman does. I heard Anuranjita Kumar at a women authors' event, read her book and then again came across her at a JobsForHer event. The one line that stuck to me is,

"One should know how to navigate your way through corporate corridors. There are mentors which help us."

No wonder, the two women have slided into new roles with ease. Indra Nooyi is a director on the Amazon Board. Anuranjita Kumar has launched the Women in Technology forum. It is creditable indeed, but I repeat

Do you have the kind of network and resources that they have?

Then, why compare and be influenced by Women's Day statements, and maybe sponsored books?

The life of an average woman is different. We are looking for big platforms, creating small platforms, and that is a struggle in itself.

The ‘All’ pertains to the satisfaction of doing justice to all roles — homemaker, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, mother and professional. The conflict stems from a clash of priorities.

Why not identify your core area/s of competence and focus on those, without being torn by conflicting demands? Collaboration and optimum use of resources is the key. The most important strategy is to dispense with guilt. The beauty of parenthood lies in having a partner to share it (except for a handful of cases of single parents). In some cases, the grandparents are willing to pitch in.

All of us have to make choices in life, and you have done the same. You do not exist just to fulfil the expectations of the community. Create your own ecosystems, and live to excel in those setups.



This article was originally written on 6th March, 2017. Since a large part of it remains relevant to present times, I've just updated it with recent developments.

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