Sunday, February 3, 2013

Norah Casey: "It's impossible to have it all."

Norah Casey, CEO of Irish magazine publishing company Harmonia, gave an in-depth interview with The Independent, where she expounded on the role of women in the workforce.  While it may have rattled some feminists at first, she has a crucial point, but it doesn't apply to just women.  Casey is one of many women in powerful positions struggling to balance her work life, her health, and her home life, but she's been doing it in front of the camera as the star of a reality show Dragons' Den (to which she is not returning for another season).

Casey noted: "The best way for a woman to get ahead is to be herself. Most women are not like Margaret Thatcher and equally they are not sex kittens. If you try to be either the macho male or the flirty female – neither will work."  Of course, we know that.  Margaret Thatcher was not a paragon of equal opportunity; she had to overcompensate for her gender, sacrificing herself in the process.  Caryl Churchill's play Top Girls examines that concept brilliantly.

Casey continues: 
"I meet women who inappropriately flirt to try and get to the top. I often find myself talking to women who get themselves into very difficult situations because they think that is the way to do it. Especially if they are in a very male and macho environment. They think that the way to get the boss's attention is to dress inappropriately and use their feminine charms but that is disastrous. It sends out the wrong signals and it certainly doesn't help with career progression."

This is nothing new.  We know that this doesn't work.  If anything, it only further objectifies and alienates the women and permits men to not take her seriously.  Casey learned how to deal with that process in a time when women were nothing but secretaries and wives.  Because men did not know what to talk to her about other than work, silence would fall upon a room when she entered.  "You could get paranoid," she says, "But gradually I realised they were talking about the rugby so I'd pitch in on yesterday's game and the conversation would kick off again."  She was seen as "one of the guys", but she cut right down to business afterwards.  This is a tactic still applicable in many workplaces today.  But it's a tactic applicable to many situations, not just gender.  We should take heed of her advice for our everyday interactions.  These simple relatable icebreaker comments can get you into any conversation and gain the attention of practically anyone.

One of the most important subjects to come up in the interview was the aspect of the woman having to get along with men, whereas men do not have to learn to get along with women, citing a study of the women named in Fortune 500.  Her method was offering coffee to a man, saying it was a way of networking and engaging in conversation. "My own fortunes changed when I realised my male colleagues were spending 95 per cent on effort and five per cent on self-promotion. Women need to get out from behind their computer, stop delivering on everyone else's agenda and start connecting and networking."  She believes that women need to know how to work in companies.  "I hate women saying how hard done by they are. There's every chance women can get on in life."

She also doesn't care for the term "Glass Ceiling" from her office, given that it denotes limitations on her female employees.  This is not something I hear often.  However, I do hear the term Glass Ceiling way too often.  Perhaps it's time we stopped using it and consider the ceiling already broken?  How about the sky?  It's looking rather limitless?  Let's just get rid of a ceiling all together.

With her husband's recent death, Casey delves into her work as CEO and co-anchor of Newstalk Breakfast, as well as getting more involved in her sons lives.  This balance means she must sacrifice either a bit of work or a piece of seeing his life growing up.  She's rather choose the latter.  All while trying to get fit, exercising and losing weight, grieving, and thinking of making documentaries on biomimicry.  It sure seems like she knows how to have it all without having it all.  We all must make sacrifices to have a personal life.  If we don't we become those work drones with no life outside of it.  There's an entire half of that person missing.  Casey is right in saying, "It's impossible to have it all."  Because it is impossible.  But we can be happy not having it all!

UPDATE: Producer and director Callie Khouri agrees, and she showcases it in her work on Nashville, where we see the stars who we think have it all, but they really don't.  She comments:

Well, I think the whole whether or not you can "have it all" idea itself is a strawman argument. I don’t know anyone male or female who can quote-unquote have it all. It’s a made-up idea. Men don’t have it all. They may have it better because they get paid more for the same work, but they don’t have it all. Men that are completely career-driven are missing all sorts of things in their kids’ lives. It’s always a struggle. It’s a struggle for men, and it’s a struggle for women.

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