Backstory on Slaughter's "Women Can't Have It All" article

(Part one of a two-part blog series on Anne Marie Slaughter and the notion of “Having It All.”)

When Anne Marie Slaughter wrote her now infamous The Atlantic article titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” she wasn’t naive about how the piece might stir up women.

She wanted to question the status quo, and possibly help inspire change.

But for everyone out there who may have interpreted her article as a narrative meant to inspire women to give up their careers for motherhood, she says, you were wrong.

And for those who thought she damaged the women’s movement’s progress leveling the workplace playing field, she says, get over it.

It’s time to move beyond the tired mommy wars, and the notion that women should be afraid to point out the flaws in the U.S. workplace for fear of rocking the boat.

It’s time to “make work choices in a different way” and not condemn women, or men, who want flexibility at work, stressed Slaughter during Families and Work Institute’s Immersion Learning Experience session held this week at JPMorgan Chase.

“I would never chose family over my work. I would make them work together,” she maintained.

The Institute honored Slaughter Wednesday night with the Work Life Legacy Award, in part because of the national conversation her magazine story ignited.

She is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University who left her job last year as director of policy planning in the State Department in part to spend more time with her family.

The idea to write the Atlantic piece sprung from her own realization of how far the workplace still had to go when it came to accommodating employees who want to have a good family life.

“What changed was actually my own calculation about what was needed,” she explained. “My kids needed me, but more importantly [was the question of] what I wanted.”

She realized her sons would be home for only a few more years but she knew she didn’t want to stop working. The ultimate goal, she explained, was to “work in a way that will allow me to have that time with them.”

“Something changed with me,” she noted. When women, especially younger women and her students, used to ask her about how to have it all when family responsibilities beckoned, “I had always said, ‘well you know, you just make it work.’”

She came to realize, she said, what so many other working parents had already figured out. You have to sometimes rethink what you’re doing career wise.

Women, and even men, who say they’re leaving a job because of family are often viewed with scorn, she said, admitting that she too was guilty of this in the past.

“Leaving to spend time with family is a euphemism for getting fired,” she continued, especially for men.

Slaughter wondered why we don’t hold up commitment to family the way we hold up commitment to fellow soldiers in the military. “We glorify ‘Band of Brothers’ but if you say, ‘I can’t stay in this job because of my commitment to those I love’ it’s viewed differently. In so many ways caring for family is not OK.”

“I value people who value those they are closest to,” she said.

So just in case you were wondering, Slaughter stressed, “I believe you can do it all.”

However, she’s come to the conclusion that it’s not “just a matter of individual commitment” when it comes to making it all work.

If we don’t change “the work environment” in the United States, or the arc of what makes a “successful-career environment,” she stressed, “some women will make it, but for every one else we actually need change.”

(On Monday, we’ll publish part-two of our post on Anne Marie Slaughter and the notion of “Having It All.” Kerstin Aumann, Families and Work Institute’s senior research associate, looks at the numbers behind Slaughter’s vision. Here’s a sampling of the post:

“Anne-Marie Slaughter is right—when you put family first, your life comes together. Our data show that family/dual-centric employees are more satisfied with their jobs, more satisfied with their lives in general, have less work-family conflict, are less stressed and in better overall and mental health.”)

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One Response to Backstory on Slaughter's "Women Can't Have It All" article

  1. Absolutely agree with Anne-Marie Slaughter’s stance about the work environment needing to change to accommodate more flexibility, and thus more productivity, among working parents, or people who have pursuits outside of their jobs which they feel make them whole. When I first read the Atlantic article, I was rubbed a bit the wrong way as it didn’t take too much into consideration the plight of families who can’t ask for flexibility because of the kind of work they do (i.e. – shift jobs, elementary classroom teaching). But after hearing Ms. Slaughter speak on a WICT panel recently, I was re-charged. The argument is not about “having it all.” It’s about “why is American industry so reluctant to make the shift that is STANDARD in other first world countries when it comes to offering workers flexibility with their time?”
    This is the reason I am galvanizing a taskforce at my own company to implement the kinds of changes that appeal to today’s employees who seek ways to live a full life, by means of “work-life integration,” to borrow a term from Stewart Friedman.
    Can’t wait to read PART 2 of this!

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