Career women

From left: Gender specialist Winny Chepkemoi, Kericho Deputy Governor Lily Kirui Ngok and Dr Esther Dindi.

| File | Nation Media Group

Can a woman have it ‘all’? 3 professionals speak out

What you need to know:

  • The age-old debate on whether a woman can ‘have it all’ gets reinvigorated each time.
  • This even as we take stock of last year’s personal hits and misses while planning for the future.

The widely circulated perspective of the American career woman Anne-Marie Slaughter on “Why women still can’t have it all”, still evokes reactions.

Ms Slaughter’s essay that appeared in the Atlantic brings out her internal struggles that led her to quit her job to give more attention to her troubled teenage son who was in New Jersey while she was on a two-year, high-profile assignment at the State Department in Washington D.C.

Her decision to quit did not go down well for those who believe that women can have it all. But being the wearer of the shoes, she defended her decision. That, like athletes who go off-season to train and rejuvenate, taking a step back for her did not mean the death of her dreams. She just chose to focus on one battel at a time.

Can a woman have a dream job, thriving family and academic pursuits on top of playing golf or other hobbies, while meeting societal expectations like visiting the sick, without burning the other?

Across various articles available online on the topic, there are those who believe it’s possible while others call it a fallacy. Then there’s a majority who say although it’s possible, the high pressure of attaining these standards will be suffered by one’s general well-being, especially mental health.

After all, many women have postponed child-bearing due to work-related responsibilities, especially in the United States where many women in the 50’s are yet to have children, even though they desire to.

Women are scientifically great at multitasking. Their zeal is innate and can push unimaginable limits. But do they know when to stop?

Winny Chepkemoi, a gender specialist and a young professional

Appreciating Anne-Marie Slaughter’s experience of being a high-flying career woman and juggling care and office work, I must say that hers is a well-thought article that draws our attention to a deeply important topic.

I like it further that she appreciates the need to be cautious of the narrative, “women cannot have it all”, for the younger generation could misread the signal. I am a great believer that women can have it all. Having it all, however, doesn’t mean the same thing for every woman because dynamics vary.

The conversation around the balance of paid and care work is not new. In the recent years, progress has been made towards mainstreaming gender equality principles in the workplace.

The past efforts of women rights movements acknowledged that workplaces often place a disproportionate burden on female workers. That includes workloads as well as emotional and relational labour within the workplace.

Historically and to date, women have also been responsible for the majority of care work at home. In the 1960s, women began entering the workforce and the fight to have gender-responsive workplaces accelerated later in the 1980’s.

In Kenya, that we enjoy those gains today as a young professional women, the women that came before us worked hard so that women could have choices. Institutional policies now encourage all employees and more so women to recognise that the perfect balance between work and home life is an unattainable myth. Instead, consider work among the multiple life roles that you manage along with other roles. Each role may require more effort/time than others across the course of the year and throughout your life.

Workplaces have enforced policies that encourages both men and women to seek help from others in their work and life environments by delegating roles while offering flexible schedules. The thing is that by prioritising roles, this can help one decide how best to manage time across their various roles and responsibilities. Unfortunately, with it comes an implication that women who are unable to reach the highest rungs of their career don’t have it all, either.

While this conversation is important, in my own experience, it doesn’t mean that I’m not striving for everything I want, or that my version of “it all” is any less valid. It means that I get to make choices about what priorities I value in the ways that matter to me. So, each of us figures out what “having it all” means to us individually, to develop our own definitions of both personal and professional success, and to respect that in each other.

In this debate, we all too often make quick conclusions to defining “having it all” as a particular combination of a successful job and successful parenthood, and we base all our conversations and arguments and points from there. But we need to take a step back.

As a young woman, and to the current generation, will agree that, we should work harder, and strive for excellence. But thinking that we have to set our sights on someone else’s vision of “having it all”, is a trap that sets the bar for defining success far out of reach, and denies each of us the opportunity to define for ourselves what “all” it is that we want to strive for.

Dr Esther Dindi, Consultant Physician, CEO of Doctor Fitness, a wellness centre

A few days ago, I read an article that brought to the fore a question that’s plagued professional women ever since the proverbial glass ceilings were shattered and women started occupying the corner offices.

Can a woman have it all? A successful career and family life? Is it possible to juggle the rigors of motherhood and the cut throat rungs of the career ladder?

As a consultant physician who runs a marriage mentorship programme, I have been asked these questions many times. I understand only too well how challenging it can be to be a mother at one moment, a busy doctor at another and a wife at the end of the day. Every time I hear this question I keep feeling that we are backing up the wrong tree.

I think the question should not be whether a woman can have it all, but rather can a woman live a full, enriching life with her intrinsic potential fully maximised.

In other words, can a woman live a happy life, and my answer is of course yes!

This paradigm shift would take away the focus from an obsession with certain career milestones or the perfect family, and instead tune in on what would be fulfilling for a particular woman at the different seasons of her life.

It would give freedom to those who want to take time to raise their children without feeling like they are “losing out”. Those that have the inner knowing that it’s time to pursue career success as a means to an end are blessed with the intuition to decipher the seasons of a woman’s life. If the CEO’s office is the ultimate prize then the bar has been set too low in terms of truly living a phenomenal life.

So choose to live life full, authentically you.

It may mean taking a little longer to achieve some goals, but you will achieve them whole, rather than achieve the goal but miss the call.

It’s exciting to see women leaders at the very top of society and I celebrate that, and it is equally inspiring to see professional women make decisions based on what is best for the things that matter most to them, especially family.

Can a woman have it all? Yes she can, in the sense that every professional woman can marry her success with significance, and the product of this marriage is the rapturous embrace of a fulfilling, happy and impactful life.

It’s not about trying to have work-life balance, it is the ability to look at life as a whole, patient in the cradle of time, understanding the seasons and embracing the process.

This is to me a woman having it all.

Lily Kirui Ngok, Kericho Deputy Governor

Nowadays, women enjoy nearly an equal status in the society with men because they have successfully navigated through traditional and modern barriers and emerged winners in their own right. In this dynamic age and time, it is possible for a woman to venture into any dream career, politics included, and still be a good home maker.

But just like everything else in life, there are good and bad days.

As a politician, mother, wife, church leader and philantrophist, juggling all the responsibilities that come with it is no mean feat. But I dare say that a woman can have it all, although it takes meticulous planning, a lot of sacrifices and learning to delegate certain roles. Having a supportive environment is also key.

Women are gifted with cognitive multi-tasking abilities which when well-harnessed create a seamless balance between work and family. Is it practical? Yes.

As my career changed from the academia to the world of public service and politics, I increasingly found myself having to cede more personal space and time. As a deputy governor, I receive many visitors, mostly residents of Kericho with various problems or petitions. As a dedicated Christian and leader, I receive delegations from churches and clergy inviting me to fellowship or support. In politics, one has to convince voters, gain electoral support and remain in power. This requires an intensive engagement with voters and opinion leaders.

My family has, therefore, had to gradually come to terms with my prolonged absence as a result. We have had to make simple adjustments at home like having more hands on the deck in handling the increasing household chores.

With more life roles, learning to delegate is a vital art. For me, I hold dear my responsibilities as a mother and a wife, but I have had to accept the fact that I may not be able to cook and serve my household every single day. 

I thank God for my understanding and supportive husband. He understands the dynamics of my public service role and guides and supports all my political activities too.

With the busier schedule, I always find it necessary to unwind. Spiritual meditation through prayers, a good laugh with kids, short breaks from work and spending quality time with family. We also go to church together every Saturday and take turns at giving sermons and singing together.


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