Mrs. Moneypenny says that women can't have everything without being mediocre at everything. iStockphoto

Ladies, you can’t have it all

Tess Vigeland Feb 3, 2012
Mrs. Moneypenny says that women can't have everything without being mediocre at everything. iStockphoto

Tess Vigeland: Today, there’s no shortage of women sitting at the head of the table. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust — just to name a few. They’ve shattered the glass ceiling while juggling careers and family.

But Heather McGregor — aka Mrs. Moneypenny — says women who believe they can have it all are just setting themselves up to be average. Mrs. Moneypenny is a former investment banker, wife, mother of three. And she’s currently a columnist for the Financial Times. Her new book is “Sharpen Your Heels: Mrs. Moneypenny’s Career Advice for Women.” Welcome to the show.

Heather McGregor: Well, it’s very nice to be here.

Vigeland: I’d like to start by having you read a passage from chapter five of your book, if you would. This is the chapter entitled “You can’t have it all.”

McGregor: Absolutely. Young women today are raised to believe that the sky is the limit. I adore ambition and I believe that women should be encouraged to be ambitious from an early age. But to grow up thinking and be encouraged to think that it is perfectly possible to be the CEO of a large public company or brilliant brain surgeon or a concert violinist or whatever and achieve this while securing and maintaining a gorgeous husband, having an amazing sex life, conceiving and raising perfectly balanced children, keeping up your league hockey on the weekends, plus still have time to see your girl friends and your parents, get to their hairdresser and have your nails done and finally to your pilates classes — is to be severely deluded.

Vigeland: Oh Mrs. Moneypenny, I’m afraid you’re committing heresy here.

McGregor: No, but I don’t think so! Do you manage all of that?

Vigeland: I manage all of it except the children, which I do not have.

McGregor: Right. Well, there you go. Already you’ve got one thing left to have to try and juggle. But I don’t think that women can have it all, because I think that if you try and excel at everything, all that will happen is that you’ll be average at everything. And I think women have very hard choices in life. And many women, by the way, don’t have children and still face difficult choices, because they have aged parents or disabled relative or something else in their life. There are lots of challenges in our careers.

Vigeland: Well, staying with the topic of careers, I want to talk about networking, you know this is an issue that you address in great length in the book. Can you give us a couple of your top suggestions for how women can develop and expand their networks?

McGregor: Yes, I mean, everybody brings two things to a position: They bring their human capital, which is whatever college degrees you have or professional qualifications. But secondly, you bring your social capital, which are the people that you know. And I define as somebody I know as somebody who returned my telephone call or my e-mail. And by the way, one has not replaced the other. I’ve got no time for those people who say, “Well, you know, who you know has replaced what you know.” Actually, it hasn’t. Students of logic know that it’s necessary but not sufficient to have good qualifications. And the same thing is true of a good network. If you aren’t absolutely, for instance, rubbish lawyer and you have a brilliant network, all that happens is a lot of people know you’re a rubbish lawyer, OK? So you do need to have both.

And for women, I think at the beginning of your career, you should look around you and really work on getting to know your peer group, because if you graduated from college and you’re ambitious at the start of your career, you will spot other people like you, both in your company and in your clients or in your customers. Spot those people and try to meet them regularly and build relationships with them, because they will be the leaders of the future.

Vigeland: But of course, if you’re doing all these meeting and greeting and networking, that’s gonna take some time, which gets us back to you can’t have it all! Exactly! So you have a wonderful story in the book where you talk about how difficult it is to say “no” to anything.

McGregor: Yes, and it is very difficult. Saying no is a key life skill. And I think, again, we are conditioned to please as women. I mean, without wanting to make too light of this subject, I think it’s a bit like getting your legs waxed. It feels very uncomfortable for a short period of time, but the long-term gain is really worth it.

Vigeland: OK. I think most of the women in our audience can probably relate to that. What decisions have you made in realizing that you couldn’t have it all?

McGregor: Well, for a very good start, I have a body mass index of 37, which you can’t see on the radio, but I promise you. It’s because I just don’t get to the gym often enough. You know, if I have spare time, it goes to my children or my husband or everything else. I am at the bottom of my priority list. So that is a difficult choice I have made. I would love to be able to wear size 4 clothes. That would be great. But it’s not something I’ve been able to find the time to get around to doing.

Vigeland: I do have to ask Mrs. Moneypenny, are you related at all to Ms. Moneypenny? And if so, how is Mr. Bond?

McGregor: Sadly, I am Mrs. Moneypenny and I’m totally unrelated. I was given my name. Although I am actually 50 in March, I was born officially in 1999 and I was given birth to by the Financial Times. And they gave me that name and twelve-and-a-half years later, I still have it.

Vigeland: Mrs. Moneypenny is the author of “Sharpen Your Heels: Mrs. Moneypenny’s Career Advice for Women.” Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been fun.

McGregor: You’re extremely welcome. Thank you.

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