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?