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March 18, 2024 | 5 Mins Read

The Pressure for Women to “Have It All” is Alive and Well – Is the Possibility?

March 18, 2024 | 5 Mins Read

The Pressure for Women to “Have It All” is Alive and Well – Is the Possibility?


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

I came across a post in a working mom’s group I’m in where someone shared this article about former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, who became the first Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company in 2009, discussing the realities of what it took in her role as a mom to advance to the levels she did in her career. She says, “I would not be able to be CEO of the company unless I outsourced the caring for my kids. I was not a believer that you had to go to all your kids’ games. I just don’t understand what that’s all about. We did what we had to do.”

By outsourcing, Ursula is referring to relying on her late husband Lloyd to take care of their two children and she credits her career success to this strategy. Now, this interview took place in 2022, but the comments on the post from other moms in the group are of the present and show some very mixed emotions on Ursula’s stance. Here are some highlights:

  • “I can’t believe she refers to Dad taking care of the kids as outsourcing.”
  • “I think this is the unfortunate truth; you can’t have it all. It’s not talked about enough and women run themselves ratted trying to do it all because we’re told it’s possible.”
  • “My boss used to send me all the ‘you can’t have it all’ articles after I had my first baby. It was so toxic. I was promoted to her equivalent position when he was 15 months old. The fact of the matter is, I’m not going to take advice from a 60-something year old woman when parenting today is so vastly different. I don’t aspire to be the CEO of a large company, but I think you can have it all if what you want is a healthy career and to be present for your children. It’s not easy, but it’s totally possible.”
  • “I guess it depends on your definition of ‘having it all.’ I suppose what I mean is having a career that I’m satisfied with, being there for my kid’s activities/events, and doing things for myself as an individual and spouse. I’m doing all of that.”
  • “I believe the term ‘Supermom’ is so toxic. It disrespects every mom that is out here giving 100% every day just to be made to feel they should be doing more.”
  • “This article made me sad because I clicked the link thinking she was going to say that you don’t have to make every meeting, sometimes family comes first. But she didn’t and I think that’s unfortunate.”
  • “I’ve worked for moms like this and have always felt so inadequate. It’s almost a ‘if I can work this hard as a parent, so can you’ vibe, but disregarding what an absolute privilege it is to have a village like what’s mentioned here.”
  • “We need to STOP treating our working moms like they have to work a job as if they are single with no children, while at the same time expecting them to act like parents without a full-time job. It’s 2024. Why is it not acceptable to do – and be great at – both?”
  • “I think it’s crap that choosing my family should set me back in my career when it would be praised if a man did it.”
  • “I’m so grateful to have a job that supports working Moms. I am in executive leadership and regularly attend events for my child, do school pick up, and more and encourage my team to do the same.”

Choice, Circumstances, and Culture

It goes without saying that when we surface issues that working moms are navigating, there’s not a one-size-fits all. Not all, or even many, of us are aspiring to a role like Ursula had. And when it comes to service, some roles we discuss often – like field technicians – have certain considerations to weigh on what’s truly possible to accommodate.

But I’ll share this from my personal experience – I always wanted to both be a mom and have a career. When I had my boys and they were very small, I worked for a company that did not value or put effort into creating a culture that aligned with what it would take to do both well (and maintain my sanity). It was a very inflexible environment, and I remember with emotion many mornings that I had to weigh the choice of leaving one of my children crying at drop off or be late and be asked to take a quarter day of vacation time. My direct supervisor even asked me when pregnant with my second why I wouldn’t just decide to stay home.

When I transitioned to my role leading Future of Field Service for IFS, a huge weight was lifted – which was magnified in significance when Evan’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis happened just three months in. Now I am in an environment where I work very hard but in a way where it’s possible to do that and be present for my children in the ways I feel are important. Part of this is flexibility, part of it is ethos; it’s understood I’m human and accepted that family is important to me.

This acceptance is a huge barrier to overcome, regardless of industry or role. I am a firm believer that moms bring unique value to organizations. For the organization to benefit from that value, it’s necessary to determine how to support those individuals (all parents) in balancing the ability contribute sacrificing their role as a parent. For some this is a flexible schedule, the normalization of attending school events or taking kids to doctor’s appointments, a supportive culture where it’s OK to be dealing with real-life, outside-of-work circumstances, among other things.

To be clear, creating a culture that supports working parents isn’t important for women alone. In fact, the impact that can be had by men in leadership roles taking a more active role in illustrating how parenting plays a part in their work-life blend goes so far in diminishing the weight working Moms feel on being judged for never being enough in either role. And the more both parents have support to care for children when sick, attend school events, adjust schedules to drop off and pick up times, and so on, the fairer the distribution of responsibility so that the conversation becomes less about supporting working moms and more about supporting parents.

In the world of field service where we strive to create more gender diversity, the default excuse becomes the inflexibility of the environment in which service is delivered. Coming up in this week’s podcast, I welcome Daniel Trabel of Thermo-Fisher Scientific to challenge those excuses by sharing an inside look at how his team has made changes to bring more women field technicians on board. Don’t miss it!