Fascinating food for thought in the cover story of this month’s issue of The Atlantic (on newsstands today)! Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of Policy Planning at the State Department and Professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs, tells us about the modern woman’s struggle in balancing family life and high powered professions in her piece, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” While sharing her two-year experience of juggling her former job in the State Department with raising two sons, she provides a series of “half-truths” about the concept of “having it all” that hinders the productive discussion of solutions for working women. She then proposes a different set of ways for mothers to think about their professional lives (ex. thinking of career as a set of steps rather than a ladder) and gives recommendations for how our society can change things.
Slaughter argues that encouraging women to aspire to positions of leadership isn’t enough, that it’s more than just the scope of womens’ ambition that limits the possibility of more women making it to top positions. Rather, in order for society to truly achieve equal opportunity in every sense, we need to achieve a society and workplace that integrates women’s choices and is sensitive to the hardships within those choices.
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 our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.
We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women. We may need to put a woman in the White House before we are able to change the conditions of the women working at Walmart. But when we do, we will stop talking about whether women can have it all.
There’s a lot of great stuff in this article, from how expanding technology has the power to help families in the career-home balance to how society needs to consider the work-family issue as something that affects both men and women. A thought provoking read, I highly recommend it.
This piece wasn’t exactly targeted toward my demographic of college age and twenty-something women, but it got me thinking a lot about myself and a number of young women I know who aspire to a successful family life and some sort of leadership in their professional lives, whether it is in politics, business, journalism etc. (I know, typical of my generation, turning it around to a self centered concern. oops…) This is something most of us will have to think about at some point in our lives, after all.
Most twenty-something women are not in that place yet, but there are things we can do to help strive for equal opportunity in the context of having both a family and a career. Advocacy for more family-friendly policies in the workplace and in the realm of childcare is one. Helping to elect leaders (male or female) who will be sensitive to the concerns of working mothers is another. Finally, it’s important to pay homage to the mothers that do attempt to have it all, those who are rock star moms and the professional role models we aspire to be. They deserve some applause.
Any thoughts on how young women can help? Let me know yours by leaving a comment here!