Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Can successful women have it all?

By Stephanie Busari, CNN and Phoebe Parke, for CNN
updated 11:12 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Only 16.9 percent of Fortune 500's board members are women
  • McGregor explains that a man will get hired over a suitable women if she recently married
  • Women have to be noticeably better than men to get ahead

Editor's note: Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time. Each month, we meet two women at the top of their field, exploring their careers, lives and ideas.

(CNN) -- In 2000, only 11.7 percent of Fortune 500's board members were women. Today, that figure is still disappointingly low at just 16.9 percent.

Heather McGregor, a former investment banker turned headhunter, thinks she might know why this is.

As managing director and principal shareholder of the executive search company Taylor Bennett, she recently wrote "Mrs Moneypenny's Careers Advice for Ambitious Women."

Speaking at this year's Names not Numbers conference, an event where CNN International was a media partner, McGregor explains that the sooner women accept that they can't have it all, the better.

Advice for ambitious women
Huffington shares her tips for success

"The biggest challenge to women in the workplace that still hasn't changed is the level of unconscious bias. So people have in their minds that they would prefer not to hire or promote a woman and they don't even realize that they feel like that.

I know as a headhunter that if I propose two candidates of equal skills, maybe they're both in their mid thirties, one's a man and one's a woman, and the woman has recently gotten married, assuming there's nothing else to choose between them, the employer will choose the man and that's even if the employer is a woman."

"The best careers advice I've ever received myself, which was so good that I wrote a whole book based on it, is that the way we can smash the myth of the glass ceiling is to smash the myth that women can have it all. To really pursue a career is no different to pursuing your gold medal in the Olympics.

You have to make choices and they're not always easy. In my experience, if you try and do everything well what will end up happening is you will end up disappointing everyone. Much better to disappoint a very small number of people and everybody else is not disappointed, and furthermore supportive of you and your career."

"People still think that women are not going to be as reliable a hire as a man, especially in those mid years. It's a sad truth today, and I hope this will change, that women have to not just be as good as a man, but better.

Because if you're faced with two people and one of them is a 35-year old woman with a wedding ring, and she's noticeably better than the man, you'll still hire the 35-year-old woman with a wedding ring."

Read: From teller to CEO: How Gail Kelly conquered Australia's banks

Read: Is the global workforce headed for a burnout?

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:19 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Jane Fraser is often cited as one of the most powerful women in banking. She tells CNN's Poppy Harlow how women lead differently.
updated 12:43 PM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
Women's-only private members clubs are becoming more popular, offering spaces to work, socialize and relax, albeit with hefty membership fees.
updated 10:15 AM EST, Fri November 28, 2014
A new social network for women claims to be 'troll-proof' and was created by Karen Cahn, former Google, YouTube, Aol executive.
updated 9:18 AM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
She's the daughter of a Beatle and counts Kate Moss among her friends, but she had to create her own mark in the fashion world.
updated 12:43 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Alli Webb always loved having her hair done, so she decided to bring that happy feeling to millions of women worldwide with her business, Drybar.
updated 8:24 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
NASA's chief scientist Dr Ellen Stofan wants to land humans on Mars by 2035, but there are some serious challenges to overcome before then.
updated 5:41 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
The Design Museum hosts a power dressing exhibition, from Joan of Arc's short tunics, to Joan Collins' eye-gouging shoulder pads.
updated 11:20 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Opinion piece from architect Zaha Hadid on growing up in a very different Iraq, to close Leading Women's month of STEM coverage.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Leading Women ran an iReport assignment which resulted in some amazing images of girls in STEM from our readers.
updated 7:08 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Robots can be many things -- knowledgeable, dexterous, strong. But can they ever be genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious?
updated 2:30 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Victoria Beckham has come a long way from Posh Spice. She has now been named Britain's top entrepreneur, by magazine Management Today.
updated 10:47 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Just one in seven engineers are female. STEM experts share their ideas on how to get more girls into the industry.
ADVERTISEMENT