Today, I had the amazing fortune of being able to watch Anne-Marie Slaughter speak at Wharton about work/life balance with Jocelyn. Already extremely well-established in international affairs, Dr. Slaughter wrote a phenomenal piece in The Atlantic this summer titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have it All." It's a pretty lengthy article, but it was well worth the read and so eye-opening about the struggles women face in the work-field. Essentially, the article argues that women have been told the myth that if they work hard enough, find the right husband, or do the right things, they can "have it all." The article challenges that idea saying that currently, with the work environments we have now, it isn't possible for women to have it all. On top of that, those myths are just leading women to feel as if they have personally failed because they can't have both a successful family life and career. If you haven't read the article yet, I strongly recommend it. Even if you don't agree with everything she says, I think the importance is that the article has created a dialogue that's been necessary for many years now. Dr. Slaughter said something interesting today - that she said she wrote this article for my generation. She wrote it for young women who felt and demanded that these sentiments be shared. As one of those women, after reading her article, I felt both an immense amount of panic (Wait - I thought I could have it all, and now I can't?!) and relief (Thank God someone told me this early on in life). It's interesting, though, because as a 21-year old, I haven't (yet) to feel discriminated against because of my gender - especially in the workplace. All of the places I've worked in the past summers have been wonderful environments and I've never felt treated differently because of my gender. But then I realize that the real issues women face don't begin to pop up until far later in the game when marriage and children are part of the conversation. At the same time, it's made me realize that just because I'm not personally going through a struggle, it doesn't mean that I should ignore the general issues my entire gender faces as well.
A really interesting aspect of current work culture that Slaughter argues against frequently is society's obsession with face time. She strongly believes that the person who works the latest is not nearly the best employee, but rather an inefficient one. One example she gave was of an experiment with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) where each member of a team was given "Predictable Time Off" - a night where the employee couldn't work, email "blackouts," or uninterrupted time to focus on work and leave earlier. The idea behind this was that employees were suffering from not having a predictable schedule where they could make plans. The result was phenomenally successful. Satisfaction, teamwork, and retention rose. In fact, BCG is now implementing this method across 900 groups now.
A running theme throughout the Q&A was "What can we do? How can we enact change in this system?" Dr. Slaughter's answers ranged quite a bit depending on life stages. For women who were going to take an extendde time off to take care of their children, she recommended always keeping one hand in some jar whether it be taking classes or being involved somehow in the industry just so that there wasn't a large gap in your resume. What struck me a lot more was her recommendation for younger women - she recommended that when you were considering marriage, to have a serious and frank discussion with your significant other about his expectations. Would he be willing to move to a new city if you were offered a promotion Traditionally, wives are just expected to do that. Admittedly, when she said this my first thought was, "Oh my god. I'm never going to find a guy who will agree to that!." Obviously these discussions are so far away from my current life status, but I know that at some point in my life, I'll have to cross this bridge as well.
Dr. Slaughter calls for systematic change where companies make it easier for "caregivers" (not just mothers or fathers, but also children who are taking care of their elderly parents) to continue working and succeeding while sharing life and love with their families. This can range from the Predictable Time Off, to more flexibility in work time as long as you meet quality standards and deadlines, to daycare options in the office. She argues that companies are wasting money if they cannot retain the women they have dedicated time and training to - it's in their interest to change as well.
I'm grateful and thankful for the courageous women, including Anne-Marie Slaughter, who have brought this discussion out in the open. I hope that by the time I cross this bridge, it might just be possible to "have it all."
[Update] In a turn of events I was not expecting, Anne-Marie Slaughter actually replied to my tweet and retweeted my blog post out! Immensely flattered she took time out of her day to read my post. Follow her on twitter at @SlaughterAM.