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Rethinking the Myth of Women “Having it All”

Having it all has been seen as both negative and positive. But one thing remains the same: women are trying to balance personal and professional goals, and societal stereotypes only add pressure. In fact having it all, suggests Dr. Emily Balcetis, associate professor of psychology at New York University, “places unfair expectations on women that make women feel like they’re coming up short all the time.”

What’s “all” after all?

Enter a first-of-its-kind social experiment. Along with Dr. Balcetis, Lean Cuisine explored how women made decisions alone versus in the presence of other women. They asked 18 women to pick their ideal life. First, the women took an electronic survey by themselves to choose their “all.” The survey included 30 questions, featuring multiple-choice questions about family, career, finances, education, personal enrichment, health and wellness and more.

Two weeks later, they were invited to attend a “shopping” event with familiar, influential women in their lives – such as their mothers, friends or colleagues. They went to the “ItAll” store, where items on the shelves mirrored that first survey, showing things they’d shop for, including salary ranges, careers and family life.

“From the private survey compared to the public shopping experience, 89 percent of the women made more ambitious choices when they were surrounded by their female friends, family and colleagues,” says Dr. Balcetis, who designed and led the social experiment.

Filling up the cart

Those ambitious choices included a desire for higher salaries, working more hours, wanting more time with friends and choosing to be more involved with children.

Dr. Balcetis, who believes the women felt more licensed with their female peers to carve out their unique identity, notes, “77 percent of those more ambitious choices were ones made in areas where the women had previously told us in their survey, those were the most important aspects of their lives.”

One woman in the experiment, surrounded by two of her law school graduate friends, announced she wanted to leave her legal job for a career in nonprofit work. Her peers supported her decision.

Starting a new dialogue

“Women can encourage each other to shoot for more where it matters most, rather than working to accomplish something that society says we should,” says Dr. Balcetis. “We have a truly unique way to inspire each other to reach our own greatest potential.”

The social experiment is part of Lean Cuisine’s efforts to support women and their ambitions. Dr. Balcetis found her social experiment shows the positive impact of female relations and underscores the importance of social support. “It’s OK for you to have your all — and that might look different than what a perfect life looks like for me.”

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