What Does “Having It All” Mean?

BusinesswomanBy Hadley Catalano

How do professional women measure success? What does it mean to “have it all”? These questions have been dissected time and time again, with the most discussed addition to the conversation coming from Ann-Marie Slaughter’s now infamous 2012 Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The gist of Slaughter’s take on the issue: women (and men) can have it all, but not in “America’s economy” or in the current way society is structured.

The truth is there are no easy answers. There is no simplistic way to address the desires, needs, and concerns of half of the workforce. Why? Because all women are individuals with differing personalities and differing levels of ambition. Just like men. We all want different things at different points in our careers.

Citi and LinkedIn are the most recent contributors to the “having it all” conversation, with their third annual “Today’s Professional Women Report” providing a more nuanced take on what was quickly becoming a cliché topic. The report surveyed 1,023 male and female respondents who weighed in on topics spurred by conversations on Citi’s Connect: Professional Women’s Network on LinkedIn. The study’s findings shed light on the contradiction of what women have been assumed to want, and data detailing what women actually want at work.

Is The Corner Office The Goal?
According to Citi and LinkedIn, the average professional woman expects to have eight different jobs over the course of her lifetime and will make several transitions throughout her career.

Interestingly, many women surveyed are currently employed in industries that differ from their major or the field they intended to enter after college and they don’t expect that they will be in the same job long term. (According to the Citi survey, 30 percent of women think they will be at a different company or in a completely new industry in 10 years.) Educators and statisticians would agree. According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the top ten jobs of today did not exist in 2004. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today’s high school graduates, by the age of 38, will have 10-14 different jobs.

As professions evolve, so has the definition of success, and Linda Descano, President/CEO of Citi’s Women & Co., says that women today seem to be thinking more creatively about their careers.

“A lot of women aren’t just looking up towards senior leadership roles at their companies; they’re looking out for themselves, their families, and their careers by exploring new options to enable their progress,” Descano said. “More women than men agree that ‘having it all’ means, ‘Having a job that I enjoy and where my work is valued. I don’t need to be at the top of the ladder.’”

It is that type of creativity that has led to the latest phenomenon: career slasher. Marci Alboher, author of “One Person/Multiple Careers”, was recently featured on Forbes, defining this new breed of career women as “individuals who’ve created a ‘portfolio career’ involving multiple identities. Their income comes from part-time employment, temporary work, freelance assignments or a personal business—or they work a full-time job, while pursuing other lucrative interests.”

Self-directed careers can also take shape within the corporate office as women pitch job titles to management (combining interests and skills into a new position). The Harvard Business Review recently discussed “supertemps”, expanding on what business author Daniel Pink described as a “free agent nation” where many top-level professionals choose to pursue independent careers based on temporary selected projects instead of signing with agents for long-term contracts.

It seems that for many women, there is less of a laser-focus on one, ultimate career goal. Instead, the goal is more open-ended: building a stimulating and rewarding career that is more closely-aligned with their true self, even if it means switching professional paths and taking risks.

The Perfect Picture
One of the report’s most interesting findings revealed that when it comes to defining success, men place more emphasis on having children than women. This certainly confirms Peggy Drexel’s assertion on the Huffing Post that the “fog of assumption” is beginning to lift on all that we assumed about career women.

Eighty-six percent of men surveyed factor children into their definition of success, versus 73 percent of women. Opinions surrounding marriage also seem to be changing quickly, with the report finding that to many of today’s professional women, “having it all” romantically often comes in the form of a strong relationship as opposed to the traditional assumed goal of getting married. While the majority of men surveyed value “a strong healthy marriage” as a contributing factor of success, a growing number of women indicated that they are widening their views on the subject.

However, both men and women consider the balance between work and home life to be of top priority when determining overall success.

“Today’s woman is increasingly more independent and does not see her romantic relationships as a way to define her success. Instead, she is thinking more big-picture about success and factoring in things like how she can make a difference in her workplace and in the world at large,” Descano said. “She may also be looking to her friendships as a place of satisfaction and fulfillment. There isn’t just one way to lead your personal life.”

Interestingly, the Citi survey found that the Millennial Generation considers pursuing their passion as less important than financial security, which contrasts sharply with older respondents take on the subject.

“Only 55 percent of Gen Y women agree that doing what you love is more important, versus 72 percent of Boomer women,” Descano said.

Descano continued, explaining that women in their 20’s and 30’s placed a greater emphasis on marriage and children than their Gen X and Boomer co-workers.

“When it comes to kids, 78 percent of Gen Y women factor children into their definition of success, versus 73 percent of all professional women… and 75 percent of Gen Y women equate ‘having it all’ with being in a ‘strong, loving marriage’ in comparison to 66 percent of all professional women,” Descano said, noting that in each case, Gen Y males placed significantly higher value on both children and marriage than women.

Asking women what they want, rather than having a single voice purport to speak for all women, allows the conversation to shift and place increasing value on personal desires. Citi and LinkedIn’s report provides just a glimpse into what a more thoughtful approach to the “having it all” conversation could look like, one that takes into account economic situations, age, life experience, previous employment, relationships, and home life. Let’s hope this approach becomes more popular.