Women can never have it all

That’s according to Hilary Devey, the new recruit to Dragon’s Den in this interview in the Telegraph.

Helen Dewdney (@HelenDewdney) tweeted me yesterday to ask what I thought, and my reply is “It depends what you mean by ‘it all’.”

Which is a bit of a cop out, but let me explain…

It’s easy to sit at home, wiping Weetabix off your toddler‘s face, thinking “if only I had a business like Hilary Devey’s I’d be confident, in control and I’d have all the money I wanted.”

But the reality is very different.  If you want a £100 million business while at the same time working part-time around young children, you definitely can’t have it all. To build a business like that takes at least 10 years of working 16 hours a day. Re-mortgaging your house to raise the funds. Living and breathing your business. Being responsible for hundreds of employees and customers. Creating yourself  a job far more punishing than the one you had as an employee.

I certainly didn’t leave my job with this type of business in mind. I wanted a working life on my own terms, to earn what I deserved in a way that was interesting, used my skills and talents and fitted around my family. If your whole life has been geared to working up the employment career ladder, this means a massive change in mindset and learning a whole stack of new skills. It’s tough and that’s why I wanted to help other parents.

But I didn’t want to help parents build huge businesses. I don’t have the skills or experience for that and I don’t think that’s what most of us want anyway. For me, working 16 hour days for years on end  isn’t a life, it’s a prison sentence. But I totally accept that’s what  some people love to do and it’s the right path for them.

I do watch Dragons Den hoping I can learn something about being an entrepreneur, but I don’t aspire to be an entrepreneur on that scale. I’m just not that committed or driven and I don’t want that life. And I don’t think most Business Plus Baby readers want that life either. Entrepreneurs like the Dragons will have started young – like Hilary Devey who was able to run her parents’ bar aged 11. They won’t have got to their twenties or thirties and thought ‘how can I find work that fits around my kids?’ They don’t need me because they will have already found their way by the time they have kids.

I believe it’s perfectly possible – although it takes work – to have a satisfying working life that pays well, fits around your priorities and is outside traditional employment. If that’s what you mean by ‘it all’, I think women can have it.

The key is to decide what you want in life and then build it, instead of being ruled by someone else’s definition of ‘having it all’.

Whether there is equality between men and women in business is a different issue.

I agree with Hilary Devey that the world of business – and work in general – is not equal, particularly once you have children. Women have biological and social differences compared to men that affect their working lives. First, women don’t just have the babies, many of us are hard-wired to want to spend lots of time with them in a way that most men don’t. (Although if you’re not, that’s fine too.) However much paid work we do, we are still expected to run the home and manage the family. Men who don’t manage the details of their families’ lives are seen as successes, women who don’t are bad mothers.  Women entrepreneurs are at a huge disadvantage compared to men because they don’t have wives!

The Telegraph article itself shows how women are given a different,  higher set of expectations to men. If Duncan Bannatyne or Theo Paphitis’s kids had been addicted to heroin, would it have even been raised in an interview like this? I don’t think so. I’m certain it wouldn’t have been linked to his business in the way it was in Hilary’s interview.

When I was younger I was determined that one day soon we would have equality at work – the older I get, the further away this feels. Biology and thousands of years of culture aren’t going to be broken down in a hurry. But of course we must keep working towards it.

What’s your opinion?

Creative Commons License photo credit: flequi






8 Replies to “Women can never have it all”

  1. Such an insightful post! I am currently experiencing “OK your building a business, but it’s not acceptable that your toddlers clothes aren’t ironed” criticism from my mother! My husband has stopped work to take the traditional “wife” role of running the house and childcare while I focus on the business and building a job for us both. That choice in itself is showing up lots of prejudices against his choice and criticism that the home lacks somthing of a “womans touch”.

    I plan to spend a couple of years pushing really hard and build a business I can one day sell on to secure my families future and enable me to take it down a gear. That’s never going to be easy with 2 kids under 3! Each situation is unique, we’ve got to have the freedom to make the choices that suite us and our families best without being judged by others.

    I do think we’ll get change, but only when the majority of those holding the reigns of power in this country are women who have had families themselves.

    1. Kim, I think that just goes to show that, even if you do reverse the traditional roles, women still have those expectations to deal with. And often from sources that are very close to home, too. I think things are changing slowly – I usually see at least one dad and sometimes 2 or 3 at every toddler group I go to, for example. More parents are sharing the childcare and work between them now, which is great. But we’ve got a long way to go.

      Hats off to you for building a business with two kids under three. My oldest turned 3 a few months ago, so I know how hard it is to get things done with two kids of that age 🙂 Have you met Liz of Weston Communications who is doing something similar (here’s her story http://businessplusbaby.com/2010/10/01/i-started-a-business-with-a-baby-liz-weston-of-new-baby-guides-weston-communications-and-young-families/)?

      Wishing you lots of success with your business – I’ll be following your progress!


      PS If it helps, my house lacks a woman’s touch, but that’s because I hate housework, LOL!

  2. Can a woman have it all? It depends on your definition of what ‘all’ means to you. Personally i have streamlined my life to what i want and what my ideal life is. Within my definition yes i can have it. It is only when you want to live someone else’s life that it is not possible to have it all.
    I am keeping it simple i want a business that i can build round my family and remain happy and stay true to who i am in my core. I want to be able to go on vacation whenever i want to and be able to be there for my kids. It is possible to have all of these and some extras i am just fine.
    There can never be equality between women and men the earlier we accept this the better for everyone. We have not be created with the same attributes simple. We are naturally emotional and sometimes the job at hand requires no execessive show of emotions. we are who we are period. lets enjoy the life that we have.

    1. Pamela, thanks for leaving a comment. I really like this….”only when you want to live someone else’s life that it is not possible to have it all” – definitely something to keep in mind! As for what you said about equality, I think it depends on whether you can accept it’s possible to be equal even though we’re different. So, can we accept that women and men will always be different, but that that they should have equality of opportunity despite this?

  3. Interesting topic & post. I’m a firm believer in working hard to carve out the life that you want and for me that is ‘having it all’. Before kids I had a good position – a well paid job in a big company. For some that would have been ‘having it all’. For me it just wasn’t – I just hated the ladder I had climbed and found myself in a place I didn’t feel comfortable in. I am so much happier now. I like struggling to find the balance between tending to my 3 & 6 year old’s needs and building a business. Every day I am grateful I am not in my previous working role and I am growing the business organically to fit around the family. Sometimes it is frustrating as I want to plough on with it, but that would be at the expense of a fulfilling family life. For me ‘having it all’ means being in control of how I grow the business and when, to suit the needs of me and my family.

    1. Julia, I agree, that’s pretty much my definition of ‘having it all’, too. And I also feel that frustration that goes along with it! Thanks for your comment.

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