September 12, 2012
While feeling frustrated trying to balance her job as the first female director of policy planning at the State Department with her family responsibilities and raising two boys (ages 12 and 14), Anne-Marie Slaughter told a female colleague, “When this is over, I’m going to write an op-ed titled ‘Women Can’t Have It All.’”
Her colleague was horrified and told her she shouldn’t write that because “such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman – a role model – would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women.” Or would it? Isn’t it about time we female role models started telling younger generations of women the truth? Okay, maybe not as bluntly as telling them they can’t have it all, but by telling them, “You CAN have it all…just not all at the same time.”
Prior to her two-year stint in public service at the State Department, Anne-Marie Slaughter had spent her career as a law professor and then as the dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. These positions were demanding but she had the ability to determine her own schedule. Once Slaughter transitioned into her role at the State Department, she had an unexpected awakening. “The minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be – at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence.”
Anne-Marie Slaughter is not alone in discovering the difficulty of trying to excel in her career while meeting the demands of her family and personal life. Kristen Suthers, PhD, notes, “Despite the significant strides the feminist movement has made over the last 50 years, women still shoulder a greater caregiving burden than men, not only as mothers, but also in their other roles as daughters, wives, sisters, and friends. In fact, female caregivers spend 50 percent more time providing care compared to male caregivers.”
This isn’t to say men aren’t just as capable as women in providing care to children or elderly parents. I know several stay-at-home dads who are absolutely fantastic caregivers and domestic engineers. What it does mean is that our society still holds certain beliefs about the roles of women and men – beliefs and perceptions that will need to change if we are to help women (and thus our society) be able to manage having a career and a family at the same time.
Commented one friend of mine recently, “Whenever I leave work early to attend an event my children are in or whenever I work from home while taking care of a sick child, the men in my office immediately make supposedly joking comments about how I’m ‘slacking off.’ I don’t know why they can’t seem to get it through their heads that it’s not the amount of time spent at work that should be important, it’s what you accomplish.”
Anne-Marie Slaughter actually does believe both women and men can have it all, “but not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.” Ways to overcome this according to Slaughter are:
- Elect more women political leaders
- Ensure women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders
I’ll add two more items to Slaughter’s list:
- Encourage ROWE – which stands for Results-Only Work Environment. This concept, created by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, seeks to demolish the decades-old business concept that equates physically being at work with productivity to promote a workplace that is based on results. Stated Ressler and Thompson, “It’s a management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence.”
- Allow workers to determine the best way to manage their schedules so as to ensure maximum productivity while being able to manage personal obligations.
My vote is for being honest with the younger generations of women. As role models, we’ve tried our best to have it all at once and found this to be incredibly difficult given the current societal structures, attitudes, and biases as well as incorrect perceptions that equate being physically present at work with productivity. Can women have it all? Sure, just not all at the same time. I look forward to the day this changes.
~ Lisa Quast
Photo credit: Microsoft Free Clip Art