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Can successful women have it all?

By Stephanie Busari, CNN and Phoebe Parke, for CNN
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
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?

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