I've been on vacation, so imagine my disappointment to miss a raging, rich discussion of "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," an article in the Atlantic Magazine by former top government official Anne-Marie Slaughter. I started reading the piece intending to dislike it -- because of the title's assumption that only women struggle with work-family balance -- but ended up agreeing with almost everything Slaughter wrote. The nearly 12,000 word piece makes critically important points about the need for workplaces to become more flexible and our society to redefine success and career arcs, as beautifully blogged by my friend and CurrentMom colleague Stacy Feuer.
The Atlantic article on women having it all begins by making what seems an obvious point -- that Anne-Marie Slaughter was struggling with being an effective parent while commuting five days a week to Washington D.C. from the family's home in Princeton, N.J., and working 14-hour days. Well, duh. The longer I'm a parent, the more I realize that kids need their parents' time more than anything else. There is no shortcut. And I believe it's simply impossible for a mother, or a father, to be fully involved in a child's life while also devoting 80 hours a week to a highly demanding job. (I suppose I could understand Slaughter making that choice for a couple of years, although I never would want to do it myself.)
The point I'd like to hammer home is that workplaces with a culture of long, intense hours and inflexible policies -- call them overwork employers -- aren't just bad for working mothers. Overwork employers are also bad for working fathers. Slaughter wrote that working dads don't seem to feel the same guilt that working moms do when they're away from their kids. First, many dads do -- and they make career choices that give them more family time. Second, both the children and the fathers suffer by having an absent parent.
Overwork employers are also bad for people beyond working parents. All employees deserve workplace flexibility in order to nourish their personal lives and relationships. What about relationships with parents, siblings, friends and neighbors? What about regular exercise? What about hobbies and spiritual practices that give life meaning? Even after my children have left the house for college and career, I will want work that gives me room for these important priorities.
Most damningly, overwork employers are also bad for themselves. Organizations benefit when their workers are living balanced, sane lives. As our economy is increasingly dependent on innovation, which Slaughter points out, it's even more important to give people physical and mental space for creative thought. Looking at the women (and men) at the top of their fields, I am sure they've all made sacrifices in their personal lives, many that I would be unwilling to make myself.
Whether or not you read the Atlantic article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, I'd love your thoughts on women having it all. Do we as a gender simply have to make compromises that men don't? Is it possible to have it all?
I agree with Stacy Feuer's CurrentMom blog post, that women can indeed have it all, if by "all" you mean a fulfilling career and the time to be the kind of parent, spouse and citizen that you want to be. Still, we can and should continue to push back against overwork employers and make the case for flexible work as a boon to employers, workers and the overall economy. In the end, there will always be tradeoffs, but part of being an adult is recognizing that when you choose one priority, the others have to take a back seat.
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