The Greatest Lie: Why “you can have it all” destroys diversity

Wednesday 11th May, 2016

Diversity. From the Logies to the Boardrooms, we are buzzing with it. Kate Jenkins is focussed on gender, for Waleed Aly, diversity is about race and religion. I think diversity is about celebrating and leveraging any difference; gender, religion, race and sexual preference. That’s a lot, so I will begin with gender.

You can have it all.

Ha! With those five seemingly innocuous words, the weight of impossible expectations was placed upon the women of my generation (I am in the 35-45 demographic, but you can probably add about 5 to either side).

The burden of "you can have it all" meant we felt compelled to be the perfect partner + mother + daughter + career maker. A fantasy cross of Sheryl Sandberg, Arianna Huffington, Angelina Jolie and Nigella Lawson; roasting osso bucco in a spotless house and making a difference while leaning into our fabulous careers.

Achieving anything less feels like acute failure (with attendant guilt) because the feminists of the previous generations fought the good fight in order that we can have it all. We are meant to maximise their legacy.placeholder Except Arianna didn’t get enough sleep, Nigella married Charles Saatchi and Sheryl and Angelina both have a lot of domestic help so they could lean in and hang with the UNHCR. No one is doing it all.

The maths is simple. A day is finite, a life is finite, so 100% career, 100% motherhood, 100% partner do not fit into a 100% life.

You can’t have it all, so let me rephrase; life is a pie, you can have all of your pie, but you have to choose what goes into it. Vegetable, animal, mineral, you can have a bit of everything in your pie, or 100% of one thing, or any combination in between, but you can’t have everything. Trying to fit it all in will only burst your pie and that’s not a pretty picture, or a great outcome.

For argument’s sake, let’s conjure the fantasy picture for just one moment. If we were all ‘having it all’, wouldn’t that become the image of Stepford Career Mothers? Very scary homogeny. Scary and the complete opposite of diversity.

So here are my two cents:

Ladies, don’t you think it’s time to stop judging each other? Surely the suffragette-picketing, bra-burning, free-loving was so we can all be the mistress of our destinies? Be kind, not just because judging how another woman chooses to run her life says more about you than them, but because diversity is good for our sisterhood.

Gents, step up. We don’t have partners/wives at home organising the household and our lives, so please, step up.

Finally, lady, disrupt your own thinking and stop beating yourself up. "Having it all" means defining it for you and doing it on your terms.

Diversity begins with the choices of one single person, so stop the guilt, start advocating for yourself and celebrate your choices. Take a leaf from the Millennials; own it.

Our diversity is what makes us us. The legacy I would like to leave the women of the generations to come is that they are perfect as they are, in all their diversity.



Sacha Faulkner is a Client Services Director at Evolve Intelligence.