Why Women still Can’t Have it all

I’m digesting this article in the Atlantic: “Why women still can’t have it all” by Anne-Marie Slaughter

It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.

The Half-truths we hold dear:

Myth 1: It’s possible if you’re committed enough.

Um, no.

Myth 2: It’s possible if you marry the right mate.

Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.

In sum, having a supportive mate may well be a necessary condition if women are to have it all, but it is not sufficient. If women feel deeply that turning down a promotion that would involve more travel, for instance, is the right thing to do, then they will continue to do that. Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.

Myth 3: It’s possible if you sequence it right.

This is the “women can have it all…just not all at once” myth. I suppose, this is also how I’m negotiating my personal career schedule. It used to be that women had their families earlier and were more available to begin their career by their early 40s, now not so much. And it’s more common for women now to have their kids in their 30s. I had mine when I was 27 and 30yo.

But the truth is, neither sequence is optimal, and both involve trade-offs that men do not have to make.

Then the author offers suggestions for how things should change such that it would be easier for women to stay in the workforce.

1 – Changing the Culture of Face Time

The culture of “time macho”—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.

Slaughter talks about how technology can allow professionals (men and women) more flexibility with actual location. And that a culture of “family first” and valuing time management and prioritization creates a more balanced, healthier workforce. Not just for women, for everyone.

My husband and I essentially both work from home. Though, I go to campus from time to time in the summer and a couple days a week during the school year. It’s still not easy. And definitely much harder when kids are very young. But it is doable. The key is making boundaries for oneself in the home, too. It’s easy to get sucked into a constant buzz of work.

2 – Revaluing Family Values

Many people in positions of power seem to place a low value on child care in comparison with other outside activities.

…such as running a marathon, or religious practices. The implicit assumptions in society devalue childcare.

I have to wonder why this is? Is it because of its association with women? and women are devalued?

3 – Redefining the Arc of the successful career.

Along the way, women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule; or when they step off a conventional professional track to take a consulting position or project-based work for a number of years. I think of these plateaus as “investment intervals.”

I like this.

Whether women will really have the confidence to stair-step their careers, however, will again depend in part on perceptions. Slowing down the rate of promotions, taking time out periodically, pursuing an alternative path during crucial parenting or parent-care years—all have to become more visible and more noticeably accepted as a pause rather than an opt-out.

4 – Rediscovering the Pursuit of Happiness

what’s more happy: working by yourself in a dark, lonely office? or raising happy, kind, productive children to adulthood?

word.

5 – Innovation Nation

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.

6 – Enlisting Men

More Gen X and Y men are looking for better family balance, too.

My husband is a huge champion of  “family first.” Over the years, he’s made many calculated decisions to not pursue certain opportunities (even as recently as last week) because of the toll it would take on our family. There are certain sacrifices he insists our kids should not have to make for the sake of a dollar amount so long as our needs are met. And we are less financially well off because of it. And our kids our better off because of it.

But this article really is about women, who at the end of the day still are at a greater disadvantage…

If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate ourchoices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.

—-
I thought this was a fantastic article. Really outlines well the problems and the needs of our society to change. Glad I took some time to summarize it here.
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One thought on “Why Women still Can’t Have it all

  1. Such a good summary of a good article. I like her conclusion best, that which you quoted. I think the permission to realize we can’t have it all is what holds the most promise for making the changes necessary to come as close as we darn well can. The change has to be systemic. And the benefits to our children, as well as the benefits for the Greater Good by having more women’s voices and labor Out There being heard and felt, will be worth the challenges and changes.

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