I waited awhile to read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” Sometimes, I like to read things after the hype dies down a bit and there was quite a bit of hype surrounding this article. After I read and digested the article, I began thinking about the issues it brought up. Is it possible for women to have a fulfilling, successful, high-powered career while simultaneously being the kind of mother most of the women I know aspire to be? I agree with Slaughter that the reason is no. Actually, more of a resounding, emphatic NO.
Slaughter addresses the assumption that women in their 50s and 60s who have reached the pinnacle of highly successful careers often make of younger women who claim that they can’t have it all — that there is an “ambition gap.” The assumption plays out in a sort of “what is wrong with you? I was able to swing it all” type of mindset. However, this is simply inaccurate. It simply can not be that only the women who have made it to the very top of their professions are the ones who ambition. Look around where you work — look at the President of your company, look at the CEO, look at the Board. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you see mostly white, male faces. The numbers and statistics simply don’t support the argument that women aren’t having it all because they are less ambitious. As Slaughter says,
What’s more, among those who have made it to the top, a balanced life still is more elusive for women than it is for men. A simple measure is how many women in top positions have children compared with their male colleagues. Every male Supreme Court justice has a family. Two of the three female justices are single with no children. And the third, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, began her career as a judge only when her younger child was almost grown. The pattern is the same at the National Security Council: Condoleezza Rice, the first and only woman national-security adviser, is also the only national-security adviser since the 1950s not to have a family.
I have numerous friends who have recently had children, have toddlers or are expecting children in the very near future. These women are educated, passionate about a variety of things and great mothers (or about to be great mothers). Some of them still work at their (very demanding) day (and often night) jobs as lawyers, teachers, counselors and the like. Others have left the practice of law to do something different. And a few have left paid work altogether. Each one of these women made the choice that made the most sense for their family. But why is this a choice that women have to make in the first place? Why can’t a family-friendly (or simply a have-a-personal-life-friendly) workplace be the rule not the exception? As Slaughter says, “armed with e-mail, instant messaging, phones, and videoconferencing technology, we should be able to move to a culture where the office is a base of operations more than the required locus of work.” Instead, we have a norm where “face time” is key, where working from home is seen as a euphemism for “not working at all” and even when you go home, you are expected to respond to emails within 15 minutes. Until that changes, nothing will change.
Towards the end of the article, Slaughter notes that:
I do not believe fathers love their children any less than mothers do, but men do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job.
I believe this is completely true. Whether its due to cultural and societal norms, preferences or habit, women do tend to put family first at the cost of their careers. So how does this change? To be completely honest, I’m not quite sure how to get decision makers at companies on board. I just know that until they are, women can not have it all.
What do you think?