Viewpoints: Can women have it all?

Women on cliff looking at sun How can women prioritise what is important to them?

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Kirstie Allsopp recently made the headlines after advising young women to think about starting a family before going to university.

Speaking to the BBC's Newsnight, she warned about the "heartache" of infertility if women missed the "fertility window".

"Nature is not a feminist," she said.

Women undoubtedly have a lot on their plate: finishing university, finding a good job, meeting a partner, travelling, enjoying being young and then grappling with the biological clock that hangs over every big decision.

Kirstie Allsopp Kirstie Allsopp warned of the heartache of infertility

Should women prioritise or try to "have it all" by the age of 35?

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Gloria De Piero, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities

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Gloria De Piero

We should be encouraging girls to fulfil their potential”

End Quote Gloria De Piero Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities

Kirstie is right, women are being let down by the system, but her solution is all wrong. When girls are outperforming boys at school and going to university in greater numbers, instead of suggesting girls have to limit their aspirations, we should be encouraging them to fulfil their potential.

Women are aware of their own bodies and will make their own decisions about whether and when to have children.

What we need is more voices to challenge a system that means that 60,000 women are still pushed out of work after taking maternity leave.

That means that women are asked to accept a third less per hour if they choose to switch to work part-time to balance work and family life and that 44 years on from the Equal Pay Act being passed, women are still earning 80p for every pound men earn.

Susannah Moody, aged 19, student at Oxford University

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Susannah Moody

Being a mother would be very difficult for me right now ”

End Quote Susannah Moody Student, Oxford University

I was lucky enough to have the choice between going to university or not and feel like I am in control of my own future.

Having a child before university would have restricted my time at university and made it much harder to balance what I wanted to do for myself with the wellbeing of the child.

If I had had a baby five years before coming to university, I would still have a young child to look after whilst here.

Being a mother would be very difficult for me right now.

Kirstie does have a point in that, since we now live for longer and are generally capable of being in work for longer, we shouldn't just stick to the "school-university-career-babies" model but should make the right choices for ourselves if necessary - but since her comments were mostly addressed to women I find them narrow and provocative.

She seems to be assuming that only the lives of women are impacted by the arrival of children and there are many women out there who balance career and motherhood well.

I think that it is up to every woman to decide how to structure her own life and the goal should be that every woman feels able to.

Stella Tooth, artist and former head of Sky News Publicity

I think a university education, gained in teens or early twenties, is hugely important for girls as well as boys. It empowers them with the skills, knowledge and, crucially for women, the self-confidence to compete in today's society. Its benefits, economic and otherwise, flow out over generations.

Stella Tooth

  • Figurative artist, specialising in portraits
  • Went to university at 24, had her first child at 29
  • Joined the BBC as a production assistant, then became a senior press officer at BBC News and BBC World Service
  • Worked full time and had second child at 36
  • Became head of publicity at Sky News, before leaving to retrain as an artist.

Is it possible to have it all? In my experience, yes. I didn't go straight from A-levels to university, but took my degree at 24 as a mature student, after training and working in the UK and abroad as a journalist.

I was three months pregnant when I took my finals and my son was nine months old when my degree opened the door to a job in the BBC. From then on I worked full-time, taking six months maternity leave after having a daughter at 36.

Was it tough trying to 'have it all'? Yes of course!

But I had a successful career to sustain me as our son prepared to go to university - and the confidence to build a new one as my daughter followed him into higher education.

My husband and I had the economic firepower to afford the high cost of nursery care and keep our children debt free.

It's not women that need to reorganise their lives, but society to allow men and women to have equally fulfilling lives.

Holly, BBC News School Reporter, aged 17, at The Billericay School in Essex

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I think it is unfair how a woman should have to make all of these choices ”

End Quote Lucy BBC News School Reporter

I definitely want to achieve in my life so a good and steady career is perfect for that.

It's not that usual for young girls to think too much about whether they want a family but I have always been open about the fact I want kids. My family has always been really close and I want to replicate that strong family unit when I am older.

I know of people who have stopped being able to have kids because they waited too long and only managed one child. I do want to have kids young because I would rather have a couple of kids rather than risk having an only child.

I think financially to have enough money to raise a family you need to be able to have strong career to be able to support your family. Also it's easier to get into university straight from school as the system can support you more. As well as this, after 13 years of being in the education system, it's more practical to finish education in one go rather than having to go back and get into the mindset of learning.

Lucy, BBC News School Reporter, aged 15, at The Billericay School in Essex

I have always wanted to go to college and then university. Being successful is a big thing to me. I would like to have a family. I just like the idea of being a mum and having my own child to look after.

But I have not sat down and planned out my life, having an idea of what age I would like to have kids and whether this would come before or after university or not. Having children and travelling however are the things I am sure that I want to do.

I know women's bodies change but would not depend my life on this, nor worry about it so in advance. I believe whatever happens, happens.

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Ruby McGregor Smith

I found having children in my thirties to be absolutely fine”

End Quote Ruby McGregor Smith Chief executive Mitie Group

If it took many many years to become professional then I would opt to have a family first. Having a family is important, at the end of the day if I had to choose I would rather live for my family than work. But I don't have to choose! I think it is unfair how a woman should have to make all of these choices. Why does it only affect her and not the man?

The FTSE 250 boss: Ruby McGregor Smith, Chief executive Mitie Group

The choice of when to have a family is an incredibly personal one.

As long as women and men are fully aware of the potential risks and benefits of having children earlier or later, both in terms of their careers and their health, they should be left to make their own decisions.

For me personally, I found having children in my thirties to be absolutely fine and it was the right choice for me.

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