Beauty And Brains: What Career And Family-Oriented Women Can Learn From The ‘Having It All’ Feud

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi gave an interview describing how she felt it was impossible for working women to “have it all,” admitting that she often prioritized her senior-level company role over her daughters.

And to everyone’s surprise, it was Kim Kardashian who fired back, responding to Nooyi’s claims:

I feel like it’s a little bit discouraging to say that. Even if I couldn’t and it wasn’t possible, I would try.

Fortune’s Caroline Fairchild explained the Nooyi-Kardashian dichotomy in her daily email to “The Broadsheet” subscribers last week. In her analysis of the their opinions, Fairchild breaks down the two women’s differences into one important fact that has clearly informed their beliefs on this whole “having it all” debate:

Kardashian is evaluated by appearance, while Nooyi is judged on her company’s performance.

And it’s true, Kardashian’s ability to be both a working woman and a present mother is made easier by her type of career — Kim is an online personality, whose brand can be buoyed by the image of her as a caring mom to Kanye West’s kid.

And while a fluid schedule of paid appearances and photoshoots in exotic locales might sometimes be difficult to balance with a baby, it’s easier to accommodate a young child with a helpful staff and a fleet of private airplanes.

Nooyi, on the other hand, has to be accountable to her company, the 300,000 people who work for PepsiCo, and the shareholders who often call the shots in business. In her line of work, it’s undoubtedly more difficult to reschedule a meeting for a school event, or even to determine her own schedule in a day that clearly spans longer than the typical 9-to-5.

Nooyi and Kardashian do seem to be polar opposites on the career path spectrum: one is the leader of a huge, publicly-traded company, and the other is a larger-than-life TV persona.

As Fairchild wrote, these two may not provide the best — or, at least, most representative — set of feelings and examples on the “having it all” debate.

What’s needed is a more honest discussion of women who fall between the polarizing spectrum that Nooyi and Kardashian represent. Says career strategist and former IBM executive Megan Dalla-Camina: ‘Women need to stop making these blanket statements that women can or cannot have it all.’

According to the AFL-CIO, approximately 67 million women are members of the workforce (70 percent of whom are mothers to children aged 18 and younger). Still, these female employees work in a spectrum of careers and paygrades, but very few attain the levels of “success” and senior leadership like Kardashian and Nooyi.

Although very different women, both are together in the category of extreme wealth and privilege when it comes to their work-place situations.

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For most women, the “having it all” discussion is one that they really can’t have because their struggles aren’t limited to figuring out how to be a boss in the workplace while still making it home for bedtime.

The majority of these women struggle to pay the bills, to maintain a job where they can make ends meet, to come home at a reasonable-enough time to teach their kids the values they want to instill — like that hard work pays off (although it still may not be enough to pay for daycare).

For the women who aren’t senior-level or rich enough to build a nursery next to their office, the “having it all” debate is something they’re largely excluded from. They don’t have the time or the means to go on CNBC or write memoirs. Their conversations about “having it all” are likely limited to frustrations aired to friends.

Fairchild is right in that it’s these women’s perspectives who should be seen as more important on this clearly-relevant issue because they’re the ones most often struggling with what exactly “having it all” means.

But how should these in the trenches, without the platform or the privilege of possessing a following that wants to learn their opinion, express their opinions?

It seems like an impossible request, but it’s an important consideration as people continue to debate women’s increasing roles in the workforce, and as more female employees are hopefully promoted to senior-level positions for their hard work and dedication.

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