Women business leaders can have a job and a life, top executives say

The debate over whether women in high-level jobs can or can’t have it all came to Atlanta on Tuesday where three top women business executives offered hope that they can.

The executives spoke to a group of 300 mostly women at the eighth annual Fall Empowerment Event, hosted by Atlanta-based LittlePINKBook.com, a digital platform for career women.

The longstanding issue heated up earlier this year when a federal government official who gave up a demanding job to spend more time with her family wrote an article in the Atlantic magazine arguing that women can’t have it all. Observers furthered the case, pointing to data showing women still hold less than 20 percent of leadership positions in business.

But the three executives said that, while women with demanding jobs probably can’t have it all, at least not all of the time, they can get to the top without having to forever sacrifice everything else in their lives.

“If you aspire to senior leadership, you’re going to have to work hard,” said Julie Sweet, general counsel for Accenture. “That doesn’t mean you have to give up everything.”

Sweet, along with Teri List-Stoll, senior vice president and treasurer for Procter & Gamble, and Kate Quinn, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for WellPoint, said they give different aspects of their lives different amounts of time at different stages.

List-Stoll, for example, said she takes time for herself each morning with a daily run, during which she is able to clear her mind.

Each of the three executives has children and said having a helpful spouse, especially one who stays home, is an advantage.

Quinn noted, however, that even though her husband stays home with the couple’s children, she is the one who gets calls from their school when one is sick.

Women who want to rise in business should be themselves, rather than simply conforming, the executives said, and should look for mentors and sponsors to help them manage their careers.

They also need to trust in their skills and be willing to take on new challenges, even if uncomfortable.

“Have the confidence to focus on uncharted territory,” said Sweet. “Take chances.”

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