In the July/August summer issue of The Atlantic magazine, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”. Slaughter served as the director of policy planning under Hillary Clinton from 2009-2011 while on leave from Princeton University. There she continues to teach as a professor of politics and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School and was the first woman to rise to the position of Dean of the program. She is also the mother of two teenage boys.
Ms. Slaughter is correct, women can’t have it all, but then again neither can anybody else. We’ve all seen it in the last couple of years; fewer jobs, less pay, decrease in opportunity, and of course rising inequality. But of course, and Slaughter covers this by the end of her discussion, her article isn’t about the statement “why women can’t have it all”, it is really a question, “Why can’t women have it all?”.
Her answer, as obvious as it may be, is that we all work and live in a world that, for or better or worse, was developed and designed in the 1950s when not only were men much more dominant in the workforce than women, but also technology was vastly different. Nowadays, technological advances have allowed for tele-commuting and more efficient and quicker travel. This should allow for men to be more present at home, and thus give women more of an opportunity to seek higher level employment.
But that hasn’t quite happened, for various reasons. Most importantly, while women make up approximately 45% of the workforce, they are less than 40% of the managerial staff. One need only to look at politics to see this trend in action; barely 17% of congress is female. She argues that a close in this gap would help improve society in ways unimaginable. Or in her own words: “Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for women. That will be a society that works for everyone.”
I won’t go through her entire argument, that would take away your fun of going ahead and reading the article (see link in the opening bio). But, here are some of the highlights:
It takes more than just commitment to balance work and family. Sometimes it takes help from your employer, spouse, and your children.
Marrying the right person does not guarantee it either. Society needs to change as well. We need to stop overvaluing the work done in the office, and stop undervaluing the work done at home.
Don’t do one and then the other. If you have kids early then you may start a career too late and never have the chance to catch up. On the other side, if you leave work early and start a family in your 40s then you may not have a fulfilling work life. Rather, small consistent steps in work throughout the 20s, 30s, and 40s (what Slaughter calls “reaching plateaus”) while raising a family, will establish a foundation for a flourishing career in their 50s and 60s.
Lastly, and most importantly,, we all -as a society- need to remember the value of a mother goes beyond the simple necessary biological function of childbirth. Mothers are the ones from whom we learn how to love and care, but also where we learn discipline and the importance of respecting those with far more knowledge than us. Nothing can replace a mother, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that these talented women in our workforce can take time off, raise the next generation, and then return to their jobs, fully able and committed to continue perfecting the world we currently live in.