Have It All, and Have It Your Own Way!

Photo: World Economic Forum

Powerful women such as Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Barnard President Debora Spar have admitted that, despite their success, that they cannot “have it all”. The meaning of “having it all” is therefore worth exploring, because the admission by these stalwart women can come as quite a disappointment to women entering the workforce with dreams and tremendous aspirations.

Let’s start with what “having it all” means for the three women. In reading their publications, I think that all three consider it to mean having balance and success in personal and professional roles. In layman terms this could translate to the expectation of a woman to be harmoniously married, a caregiver to her children while she is climbing the corporate ladder as well as maintaining an incredible physical appearance. However, I wonder if every woman aspires to all these taglines?

Specifically for many women that Asia Initiatives works with, their society may not support the same freedoms or opportunities experienced by Nooyi, Sandberg, and Spar. As such, in thinking of our project’s beneficiaries it is difficult to think of a prescriptive “having it all” when they are driven by the need to meet necessities. From this perspective, I think that women can have it all if they believe that they have it all. As such, we should allow them to make the final decision as to what “having it all” really means.

Personally, I have mixed feelings. As an young female with plentiful opportunities that are not distinct from Nooyi, Sandberg, or Spar, the idea of “having it all” frightens me. On the same token, I do hope for a thriving job, a harmonious marriage, and to be a present and caring mother. In stating that personal observation, I am conscious that this aspiration may not apply to all women. For some motherhood alone is “having it all” whereas for others professional success alone fill that qualification. Women are also okay with giving up a higher position in their jobs to spend more time with their children, and vice-versa. In thinking about all this, particularly at my current stage in my life, I think, it is hard to formalize criteria for whether women can have it all, when goals and priorities change over time. In my limited experience, it seems that it is hard to decide whether you have it all, want it all, or even need it all.

As a Barnard student, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by incredible women, including Debora Spar, who have demonstrated the power of persistence, resilience, and knowledge in many fields: academic, professional, and personal. As a result, women like Indra Nooyi perfectly encompass the concept of “having it all” to me.

Nooyi, with her outstanding professional success, charitable nature, and evident supportiveness of her personal life is truly admirable for me as a young woman. She is a role model for many a women and an inspiration to many who strive for personal and professional success. It is for these reasons that I am truly ecstatic to learn that she will be recognized at the Asia Initiatives’ annual Gala on October 10th, 2014 in New York City. The Asia Initiatives team and I could not think of a better representative for our organization, and are truly humbled to have her in our presence. If you are interested in learning more about Indra Nooyi and attending the Gala, please press here.


– Maya Daver Massion is a Junior Board Member of Asia Initiatives and student at Barnard College of Columbia University

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