Can Women Have It All?

A panel of highly accomplished women shared their views on balancing work, family, and other interests at the Office of Diversity & Inclusion’s third annual Johnson Women in Business (JWiB) recruiting event.

Can Women Have It All?

“Can Women Have It All?” That’s the question addressed by a panel of distinguished women at a dinner discussion hosted in November by the Office of Diversity & Inclusion (ODI) during its third annual Johnson Women in Business (JWiB) recruiting event. Speaking in the Statler Ballroom before an audience 125 women, including 46 prospective women MBA students, panelists included Maureen O’Hara, professor of management and finance at Johnson; Teresa Cooper, principal and chief inclusion officer at Deloitte Consulting, LLP;  Cheryl Spielman, a partner at US Human Capital Practice, Ernst & Young; and Wendy Levitt, MBA ’92, author of At the Corner of Wall and Sesame. Elissa Sangster, executive director, Forté Foundation, introduced the panelists and served as moderator.

Prior to the event, and to set the tone for it, ODI Senior Director Nsombi Ricketts provided all participants with copies of these articles:

·         Transcript and Video of Speech by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook, delivered at the Barnard College Commencement, May 17, 2011, New York City

·          “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department

“Men run the world,” Sandberg had said in her commencement address. “Of 190 heads of state, nine are women. Of all the parliaments around the world, 13 percent of those seats are held by women. Corporate America top jobs, 15 percent are women; numbers which have not moved at all in the past nine years.  Nine years.  Of full professors around the United States, only 24 percent are women. …we are nowhere close to 50 percent of the jobs at the top.  That means that when the big decisions are made, the decisions that affect all of our worlds, we do not have an equal voice at that table.”

Ricketts asked participants to consider why this is the case: “Is it that women aren’t aspiring to those leadership positions? Are societal norms and pressures getting in the way? Does the infrastructure of how we work causing the problem?”

“We need women in leadership positions,” said Forté’s Elissa Sangster when she began the evening’s program. For that to happen, she said, “you need to make a plan ahead of time, knowing what’s important to you.” In her introduction, Sangster spoke about her organization and articulated its mission: The Forté Foundation is a non-profit consortium of major corporations and top business schools working together to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers through access to business education, opportunities, and a community of successful women. Johnson has been a Forté member since 2004, and when Sangster asked the audience how many had attended a Forté forum, many women in the room raised their hands.

After introducing each of the panel participants, Sangster invited each of them to respond to the evenings’ central question:

“Do you think women can have it all, and if so, how do you define ‘having it all?’”

Maureen O’Hara, who in addition to her position as a professor of finance at Johnson serves as chairman of the board of directors of Investment Technology Group, Inc., a global agency brokerage firm, and on two other corporate boards, and is involved in many other professional activities. She responded with this story:

“We have two daughters – now 26 and 23. When our youngest daughter was three she announced that when she grew up she wanted to be a mommy,” continued O’Hara. “We said, ‘Wonderful Megan – but you know, you can be a mommy and something else – a mommy and a teacher, a mommy and a doctor, a mommy and an astronaut ….’ She paused and then said, ‘Well yeah, but then you couldn’t be a very good mommy.’ I wasn’t able to breathe, having worked full-time since she was four months old and part-time since she was a week old. And my husband said: ‘Look what a good mommy you are, she doesn’t even know you work!’ I start with this story because it illustrates two points:

1. “Guilt is going to come with the territory. Those of you who are going to try to have families and children – trust me, you’re going to feel guilty at various points throughout your life. Get used to it.

2. “Your spouse is going to play a very big role, because you lose your objectivity when you hear something like that.

“Now I think the kids actually turned out pretty well. But the reality is that it’s not very easy. Not ever. It’s not easy for you, it’s not easy for your spouse, it’s not easy for other people. Balancing family and work is challenging.”

Teresa Cooper of Deloitte Consulting, said: “I’m on the side of Maureen … Life is all about trade-offs, and you have to decide what you’re really passionate about and what you’re prepared to trade and ultimately what’s going to be right for you.” She also urged the audience to learn to take a seat at the table. “Women sometimes sell themselves short; we don’t really put ourselves forward and recognize that we actually have a phenomenal amount to contribute,” she said. “Don’t sit back and let the guys get the good roles while you do more of the administrative side. I find that so many of our junior female consultants readily take some of the roles that are naturally put forth for women as opposed to really saying, ‘What is it that I’m passionate about? Does this role really give me the experience I need to develop my career?’”

Cheryl Spielman ’77 of Ernst & Young noted: “At the end of the day I think you can [have it all] but there are different aspects of your life that will take precedence. At some points it will be career. At some points it will be family. At some points it will be interests.  … Some women will have children right away, some women will say, ‘I will not start a family until I’m at a certain point in my career.’ That’s a big one, and I don’t think there’s one right way or another. For me it was important, I needed to be a mother as well as a business woman. … I never off-ramped completely, but there were clearly points in my life when my kids came first and my career slowed down, and there were clearly points when my career took off.”

Wendy Levitt, MBA ’92, provided a completely different perspective. “I finished here in finance and marketing, went straight … to the airline industry, went from there to American Express,” she said. “I hold patents in the U.S. and Asia, I speak three languages. And it is very hard for me … to say, ‘I am just a mom.’” She went on to describe how she arrived at her decision to stay at home with her children. “My husband … travels 80 percent of the time. And it was a question of, do I continue to work in a job that I loved, and work my 60-80 hours a week, and … find help to raise the kids? Or … did I change paths?

“What I didn’t know how to do when I left corporate America, was have the conversation to say, ‘Here’s my track record. You know that I’m a contributor. You know that I’m going through a life change. How do we build a relationship together, so that we have a win/win where I continue to feel passionate about working for you and you continue to feel good about what I’m giving to the company?’ …We didn’t have the language, none of us had the tools, to have that conversation. And so I left. ..The conversation I would like to have is, ‘How we collectively open that door?’”

Throughout the evening, the discussion remained positive and upbeat but also candid, passionate, often personal, and always to the point, as panelists continued to discuss the challenges women face in balancing work, family, and other interests, and strategies for managing it all successfully.

The Office of Diversity & Inclusion (ODI)  first introduced the Johnson Women in Business (JWiB) recruiting event as a pilot in 2010, with 29 prospective women students attending. This year, ODI received 87 applications and hosted 46 prospective women students on campus (an increase of 57 percent over 2010).

“ODI has received extremely positive feedback from our female visitors about our alumni, students, community and MBA programs,” said ODI Senior Director Nsombi Ricketts. “ODI thanks all the Johnson students who opened their homes to host prospective MBAs over JWiB weekend, and also acknowledges the event’s corporate sponsors: Accenture, Corning, Ernst & Young, Johnson & Johnson, and JP Morgan.”

There is no comment.