Even Carol Vorderman can't solve the conundrum of having it all
Women are told they can juggle family and career but Carol Vorderman's departure from Loose Women suggests otherwise.
She might be famed for her maths skills, but there is one equation that Carol Vorderman can't quite add up: doing everything + being happy. The former Countdown host has recently announced that she's quitting after three years on Loose Women, because she "can't do it all".
There are, as ever, rumours that something else might be afoot (low programme ratings, internal conflicts, etc).
But sticking with the official line – that the 53-year-old mum-of-two is only leaving because she's too busy – we have a nice little quandary on our hands.
Is she right? Have all these years of feminists resolutely declaring that women can successfully juggle a career, hobbies and family been wasted? Do we finally wave the flag of surrender and admit no, actually, we can't 'have it all'?
It's certainly a view that appears to be gaining momentum.
Only last week, the extraordinarily successful Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, mother-of-two and the 13th most powerful woman in the world (according to Forbes magazine), said in an interview that, despite the facade of perfection they might put up, women cannot achieve that Holy Trinity of good wife, good mother and good career.
Her words outraged those who saw her as betraying the cause, betraying her sex.
But is she betraying anyone or just being loyal to logic?
As we all know, there are only 24 hours in the day. No amount of money and no level of high-flying job is ever going to change that. Yes, it might help – you can buy in nannies/chefs/drivers – but it can't buy time, and it can't buy a cure to that old human complaint of 'I can't be in two places at once'.
And the key word there is human. This battle to 'have it all' is routinely peddled as one which only women face, but surely it should be seen as an issue men face too?
Take how statistics last year showed there was a rise in stay-at-home fathers of 10% from the previous year, while at the same time, 40% of men opted out of paternity leave. So the dilemma between family and work is clearly darkening the male side of the fence too, yet no one ever asks Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos how often he cooks dinner for his family, do they?
"'Having it all' has always been somewhat mythical for both genders," agrees Jane Woods, managing director at Changing People, which focuses on empowering women in business.
"Although we've made huge strides in gender equality, childcare, home building and housework still largely remains the responsibility of women. Many of the senior women I've coached knock themselves out trying to do several jobs at once, and all to a high standard.
"For a career woman, in fact for any woman, it's hard to get the balance right. Stay-at-home mums miss out on job opportunities [and few couples can afford that option anyway], while working mums feel guilt in spades – guilt which is not usually applicable to men."
Of course, this guilt (or lack of) is hardwired into the sexes by evolution, but as Vorderman has shown, hopefully time and age can help it fade.
"As women get wiser and older, I suspect we're less likely to put ourselves under pressure," says Woods. "We know what works for us and what doesn't, and are comfortable enough in our skin to say so.
"So well done, Carol Vorderman. You may just have done us all a great service."