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  • Writer's pictureScott Behson

Why Women (nope) Men (nope) NO ONE Can “Have It All”

It is not surprising to me that “women still can’t have it all” and “men can’t have it all either.” The simple fact is  Women Men No One Can Have It All

Over the past generation or so, we’ve seen a huge shift in expectations and opportunities for women. While much progress has been made (and we are all the better for it), women still face stereotypes and discrimination as they “try to have it all” and move beyond traditional role expectations.

The current difficulties for women in the workplace and women trying to balance work and family were covered brilliantly by Anne-Marie Slaughter in a recent Atlantic cover story (and far more stupidly superficially by Ann Friedman in NY Magazine). Slaughter’s article deservedly received accolades and huge amounts of media attention, and I know I’m very late to the party in commenting on it. (And to her immense credit, Slaughter also wrote a great follow-up piece on men, work and family)

In short, Slaughter makes the case that women still face significant obstacles and difficulties as they try to remain heavily involved in their traditional roles (parenting, caretaking) while also expanding their involvement in traditional men’s roles (providing, working outside the home).

There is increasing evidence that the converse is increasingly true for men. Men now face significant obstacles and difficulties as they try to remain heavily involved in their traditional roles (providing, working outside the home) while also expanding their involvement in traditional women’s roles (parenting, caretaking).

Anecdotally, In a FWF guest blog, Neil Cohen, who became a SAHD after 18 years in corporate America, explained:

Following college, I spent 18 years in the corporate world – a man in a man’s world. For the past 18 months or so, I’ve been a dad in a mom’s world. And let me tell you, it’s Bizzaro World. And perhaps this will get me in trouble, but I feel like the workplace has come along much further for women than the parenting world has come for men (likely due to sheer numbers and the will of Marisa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg)…. Men may “own” the corporate world, but moms “own” the parenting world. We need to make in-roads in both directions, not just one… We have a long way to go.”

In fact, the Boston College Center for Work and Family’s excellent New Dads study provides compelling data that we indeed do need to make in-roads in both directions and that men are struggling as they try to “have it all.”

  1. When surveyed about their work aspirations, 76% stated they wished to advance to a position of greater responsibility in their company, and 58% expressed a strong desire to move to senior management. This is in line with traditional expectations of men’s roles in the workplace.

  2. However, 70% of these same men, when asked about their family lives, stated their family role was to be both caretaker and provider (as opposed to less than 10% who chose only one role or the other), and 65% agreed that both parents should equally share caregiving responsibilities.

  3. While the majority of respondents said they spent between 2.5 and 4 hours per day with their children (significant progress from past generations), only 31% reported they met their stated standard of equal caregiving.

So, men want to advance their careers. Men also want to take a more active role in their families as fathers and caretakers, and have made progress. However, men are struggling to strike a balance and “have it all,” especially at home.

So, it is not surprising to me that “women still can’t have it all” and “men can’t have it all either.” The simple fact is NO ONE can have it all. There is only so much time and so much energy to divide between one’s two most important adult roles (family and work). In light of this, here are my thoughts about how the situation could be improved:

  1. Fathers need to prioritize among life goals and roles and make fully conscious choices, knowing that there are trade-offs and that priorities can change over the course of a lifetime (see here)

  2. Couples need to continually communicate about what arrangements are best for the family, and what is best for each individual (see here)

  3. Workplaces need to allow more formal and informal flexibility- the New Dads study also found that over 70% of working men used informal flextime or informal part-time telecommuting, but less than 10% of men used formal WF policies, citing fear of negative career consequences.

  4. Men need to be strategic about negotiating for work flexibility (see here), and should actively pursue informal or invisible ways to address family concerns. With effective informal arrangements, men (and women) can better balance work and family responsibilities, continue to perform at a high level of work, and escape being branded as less serious about one’s career.

  5. Workplace Cultures and Societal Expectations need to change- To put family on par with career is somehow still too progressive for many organizations and for society as a whole. Articles entitled Real men don’t need work-life balance, are still being published. Culture is likely to change slowly over time as the next generation reaches top management, and when those (both men and women) who struggled with work-family issues attain levels of influence and leadership (see here)

I’ll let the authors of the New Dads study have the final word:

“Fathers want to have more time to be with their children and they aspire to do more at home. At the same time, they have equally strong desires to be successful at work and advance their careers. Thus, we are left with an image of today’s fathers as caring, committed and conflicted, struggling to be engaged parents while striving for advancement in their careers. This leaves us with the obvious question: can they have it all? Can they increase their caregiving role without sacrificing their advancement goals in the workplace? Or must they adjust their expectations- redefining what it means to be successful in both domains?” –Harrington, Van Deuson & Humberd, The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted, Boston College Center for Work and Family.

What do you think about the struggle to “have it all”? Where have you succeeded or fallen short? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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