I am a little over four years late, but this weekend I discovered Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic – “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”. The article pulled so many of my heartstrings that I knew I had to share my reflections on the blog today. Although the article was written in 2012, it is still, if not more, relevant today. Had I read it four years ago, before I was a mother, it definitely would not have touched me and fired me up the way that it did this weekend.
“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” is a lengthy piece, but I encourage you to read it in its entirety. Although a working mother juggling a career and family will likely relate most to the article, I believe both men and women of Generation X and Y will find value in this well researched and completely honest piece of work.
The background of the article is about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s decision to leave her job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department in Washington D.C. in order to be more present and available at home for her two teenage sons. The piece discusses the pull and demands between work and family life and the core of the article is that although great strides have been made to provide opportunities and advancement for women in the workplace, women today are facing an entirely different problem.
The problem is that more and more women of younger generations are leaving the conventional workplace in order to care for their families. The reasons behind this are many, but they include the lack of flexibility conventional workplaces provide for working mothers, the fact that women are getting married and having children at an older age, usually around the time that their careers are picking up or peaking, and the differences between men and women when it comes to balancing work and family.
How I Could Relate
Although I was far from a position as prestigious as Ms. Slaughter’s, I had taken pride in my work and felt accomplished in the job I was able to obtain for one of the biggest companies in the world. As I read the article, I could relate to almost every obstacle and uncomfortable situation described.
For starters I have always been extremely career driven. I take pride in the work I do both big or small and have always advanced in every single job that I have had since graduating from college. In my 20s, I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that I would leave my career when I did. I also never could have imagined the way my children would change me.
I spent my 20s working and discovering who I truly was. While many of my friends that I had grown up with were getting married and starting families, I still felt too young to put those types of responsibilities onto myself. I got married when I was 27, which now still seems fairly young to me. I was pregnant a year later while I was working and attending law school part-time. Having experienced a year of the demands of law school I knew I couldn’t balance a career, school and a new baby – well if I ever wanted to see that baby. Something had to give, so I dropped out of law school.
In a little over a year I became a wife, mother and the breadwinner for our family. As Anne-Marie Slaughter describes in her article, women today are experiencing marriage, motherhood and career advancement all around the same time, whereas in the past these events were spread out over time with a woman generally marrying in her early 20s, having children through her mid 20s and then focusing on her career around her 30s. This may have made it much easier to balance work and family life decades ago.
Although the statistical data on working women has changed, workplaces have remained the same. They have not updated their policies to accommodate the new working woman, which is why many of us have had to make the difficult decision to leave. As I mentioned in my initial post, I had tried to come up with a compromise of working remotely a couple of days a week before my ultimate decision to leave my company. When the request was made to work remotely, however, it seemed like the approval process would be a difficult one and that I was asking a lot of the company.
This is a company that has literally changed the world, however it could not provide me with an answer as to whether I could work from home two days a week in a timely manner. It was at this point that I realized that no one will care more about my life than me, so why was I putting these important decisions in others’ hands?
Striving For a New Norm
Even if my request to work remotely a couple of days a week had been approved, this would have been an exception and not the norm. Ms. Slaughter states in her article the fact that “technologies are making inroads and allowing easier integration of work and family life.” However, she also points out that “our work culture still remains more office-centered than it needs to be, especially in light of technological advances”.
One of her solutions to this issue is to “change the ‘default rules’ that govern office work – the baseline expectations about when, where, and how work will be done”. I view myself as a professional. Whether a project can be completed between 9 to 5 or whether I need to stay up until midnight to finish it, I’m going to do what it takes to get it done.
When I suggest that conventional workplaces should get rid of the 9 to 5 standard and allow people to work when they want and where they want as long as the work gets done, many people have responded that some workers require supervision and otherwise would not work at all if they were given this flexibility. I can understand this, but also have to ask, why would companies even tolerate this type of unprofessional behavior? If this is the case, then it seems that the company would rather have rules in order to manage someone who is unprofessional than to change its standards to keep its best workers happy.
Finding the solution to these modern day problems is not easy, however I want to thank Anne-Marie Slaughter for her article. Because before we can fix a problem or provide suggestions on how to make things better, we need to acknowledge that the problem exists. It definitely exists for me and I have talked to countless women who have described similar situations and feelings.
At the end of the day, this is not just a women’s issue. These issues affect all workers today and bringing about transformation will benefit the quality of life of all employees. It is never easy to bring about change, especially a cultural and societal one, however I believe if more people begin to talk openly about these issues and begin to demand change, then companies are going to have to start paying attention. There are some companies that are moving in the right direction, but again this is not the norm.
I’m motivated to explore these issues in more detail and I hope to be a part of this change. I valued my career and had I felt that there was more balance between my career and my family I would have gladly continued working. As Ms. Slaughter states in her article, when it comes to a choice between my children and my job ‘There’s really no choice’. For the sake of my son and especially for the sake of my daughter, my hope is that they never feel like they must choose between work and family and that they can truly have it all.