Women get asked this seemingly-harmless question all the time, but it can really hurt their careers

Tom Brady Gisele super bowl paparazziJamie Squire/Getty ImagesGisele AND Tom both seem to have it all.

Can you have it all?

Women, particularly successful women, get asked that question all the time. But men hardly ever do.

Sheryl Sandberg is a firm believer that this question does more harm than good.

In an interview with Virgin founder Richard Branson and Bloomberg’s Emily Chang, the Facebook COO was asked that very question. Instead of answering, she turned and asked Branson:

“Do you ever get asked if you can have it all?”

“No,” he replied.

“Hi, Richard Branson,” Sandberg continued. “Can you have it all? How do you have it all? Do you ever get asked that?”

“No. I suspect I’ve spent nearly as much time with my kids as my wife has spent with the kids,” Branson said. “When my kids were young, I moved out of the office. I worked from home. I had the kids calling around while I was having meetings. I’d be changing nappies while we were having meetings. And I found the time and was allowed the time to work from home.”

Sandberg pointed out that the work-life balance question primarily targets women, and that shouldn’t be the case. It makes women think they can’t have both a profession and a family, while men are never asked to consider the same thing.

Richard Branson Sheryl SandbergBloombergSheryl Sandberg asks Richard Branson a question he’s never gotten before: ‘Can you have it all?’

“What happens is the have-it-all language is only applied to women,” Sandberg said. “What ‘have it all’ means is ‘have children and have work.’ We assume men can have both and they do. The problem is, we assume women can’t but women do and have to. Seventy per cent of mothers in the United States are in the workforce because they have to be.And so telling women constantly ‘you can’t have it all’ is not helpful, because they have to be parents and work.”

Men, however, also get shafted with the way companies traditionally think about families and professions. Women often get much more time off to care for their families than men, for example. Branson would like to see that change.

“I therefore think companies should give men that flexibility to work at home, to be able to spend time at home, to have longer holidays,” Branson said.

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