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Why Women Can't Have It All and Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlantic Magazine article


Why Women Can't Have It All, by Anne-Marie Slaughter:

In July 2012, the Atlantic Magazine published an article titled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton University professor and the first women to serve as director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, from 2009 to 2011. The article stirred up a tempest of comments, blog responses and debate about whether working mothers can have it all, and what the right solution is. Because of the importance of this piece to the ongoing debate about work-family balance and the inflexibility of corporate America, I felt it was worth summarizing the main points Slaughter makes in the nearly 12,000 word article.

Anne-Marie Slaughter begins her article about "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" with an anecdote about a day in her State Department job when she traveled to New York for the annual United Nations meeting of foreign ministers and heads of state. At the time, her 14-year old son was struggling with school and she felt she should have been with him at their Princeton home during the week -- instead of in Washington D.C. When her two years in the administration of President Barack Obama ended, she returned to Princeton to spend more time with her family. She was surprised to encounter disappointment from older feminists that she had stepped off the fast track -- and to realize that younger women already knew we can't have it all.

She concludes the introduction by noting that researchers have found women's overall well-being is lower than it was "in 1972, both in absolute terms and relative to men." The best hope for a better world is to elect a woman president and ensure that women make up half of Congress, corporate executives and the judiciary, she says. "Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone," Slaughter writes.

In the next section, she takes on three half-truths than many women tell about how you can have it all.

Having It All Myth No. 1: "It's possible if you are just committed enough."

The first half truth that older feminists tell is that women who take the mommy track or go so far as to quit their jobs to spend more time with their children simply weren't committed enough to their careers. But Slaughter rebuts this notion by pointing out the pressure from "inflexible schedules, unrelenting travel and constant pressure to be in the office," that are commonplace in the highest-level professional positions. "These 'mundane' issues-the need to travel constantly to succeed, the conflicts between school schedules and work schedules, the insistence that work be done in the office-cannot be solved by exhortations to close the ambition gap," she writes.

Having It All Myth No. 2: "It's possible if you marry the right person."

It's true that a equitable and happy marriage to a supportive spouse can help you balance work and family responsibilities. But the right life partner is a necessary and not sufficient condition to "having it all," Slaughter contends. For one, women of her generation often feel worse about being away from children due to work obligation, as compared with men.

Moreover, why would we want to continue with our always-on workplace, which demands total commitment from working fathers as well as working mothers? "Why should we want leaders who fall short on personal responsibilities? Perhaps leaders who invested time in their own families would be more keenly aware of the toll their public choices-on issues from war to welfare-take on private lives," she writes.

Having It All Myth No. 3: "It's possible if you sequence it right."

Anne-Marie Slaughter warns that, "young women should be wary of the assertion 'You can have it all; you just can't have it all at once.' " She challenges the notion that you can carefully sequence career advancement, child-bearing, a lower-pressure job while kids are young, and then ratchet up the profile of your work. While it may work sometimes, having kids young means struggling with work-life balance before you have the financial means or career success; delaying child-bearing can lead to infertility struggles and age discrimination. "Neither sequence is optimal, and both involve trade-offs that men do not have to make," she notes.

As a replacement to these three half-truths about women having it all, she offers recommendations for structural and societal changes needed to finally give working mothers -- and fathers and other professionals -- some hope of achieving work-life balance.

Recommendation No. 1: "Changing the Culture of Face Time"

First, she suggests that leaders and organizations allow employees to work from home whenever possible, and eliminate the "time macho" mentality that equates long hours with superior performance. She notes that when you expect to work 10, 12 or 14 hour days, you're less productive during the work day. "My assumption that I would stay late made me much less efficient over the course of the day than I might have been, and certainly less so than some of my colleagues, who managed to get the same amount of work done and go home at a decent hour," she writes

Recommendation No. 2: "Revaluing Family Values"

Next, she challenges everyone to abandon their negative views of someone who leaves early to care for a sick child, or refuses evening meetings because of family. Why are these choices any less valid than an observant Jew who stops work entirely on Friday night at sundown? Or any less admirable than a marathon runner who devotes early mornings and weekends to training?

Recommendation No. 3: "Redefining the Arc of a Successful Career"

As a society, we should stop assuming that people will work relentlessly in their 20s and 30s and reach the pinnacle of their career in their 40s and 50s. For women, these are prime child bearing and rearing years. Instead, allow for a career break or stretch of part-time work before a working mother resumes the quest for promotion and advancement in her late 50s and 60s.

Recommendation No. 4: "Rediscovering the Pursuit of Happiness"

Citing Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg's confession that she leaves work at 5:30 p.m. to have a family dinner, Anne-Marie Slaughter exhorts all of us to be upfront when it comes to family obligations. "It does mean that if you are late coming in one week, because it is your turn to drive the kids to school, that you be honest about what you are doing," she writes. "Let us rediscover the pursuit of happiness, and let us start at home."

Recommendation No. 5: "Innovation Nation" and "Enlisting Men"

To combat those who say too much work-life balance will hurt America's competitiveness, Slaughter cites recent research that shows that family-friendly policies actually help productivity and performance. "Giving workers the ability to integrate their non-work lives with their work-whether they spend that time mothering or marathoning-will open the door to a much wider range of influences and ideas," she writes.

Recommendation No. 6: "Enlisting Men"

Finally, she concludes with the encouraging observation that men are joining the drumbeat for greater workplace flexibility -- and that perhaps this will be the catalyst for a world where everyone can have it all, even women.

Source: the Atlantic Magazine

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