As an overwhelmed woman this month, I was immediately drawn to the title of The Atlantic’s cover story this month: “Why Women Can’t Have it All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton University professor and former director of policy planning at the State Department.
Of course, this headline should be news to no one by now. We all know that the demands of modern life become ever more complex, and that when you add the responsibility of raising children to that mix, you get an instant recipe for overwhelmed women and something always has to give.
The article is definitely worth reading in full but I wanted to highlight some of her ideas.
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Recommendations for more Family-Friendly Workplaces
1. Change default workplace hours and meeting times to the hours when children are in school.
2. Change default workplace leave policies to assume parents need to take time off to care for their children, such as after the birth of a child.
In this situation, you don’t need to “request” maternity leave, rather your employer and coworkers would assume you will take it and you would only request NOT to take maternity leave if you chose not to.
3. Remove any discriminatory barriers to entry for older women who are entering or returning to the workforce after many years off raising children.
Sadly, Slaughter notes:
“[M]any women still ask me about the best ‘on-ramps’ to careers in their mid-40s. Honestly, I’m not sure what to tell most of them. Unlike the pioneering women who entered the workforce after having children in the 1970s, these women are competing with their younger selves. Government and NGO jobs are an option, but many careers are effectively closed off. Personally, I have never seen a woman in her 40s enter the academic market successfully, or enter a law firm as a junior associate . . . .”
4. Allow for more telecommuting opportunities and less “face time” at the office.
5. Respect and value decisions to curtail work hours to participate in childrearing activities.
This article generated an interesting discussion between me and my husband. I can’t imagine any working mother who doesn’t shout “Amen!” to all of the above. If you don’t have children, however, all of this can seem like an extra benefit for those with children that those without children don’t really participate in.
Functionally, there are also some questions about how this would realistically play out. If everyone in the office takes off at 3:00 p.m. to meet the school bus at home, what happens if there is a business crisis at 3:30 p.m.? Does the business just wait until the next day? Do all the childless people take up the slack? Can the business survive? If gaining more time flexibility meant less pay or no benefits, would people accept the trade-off?
As a mother of two daughters, I would love to see a world where they enter the workforce with all of the above flexibilities built in. However, as someone who has been both a full-time childless working professional and a full-time stay-at-home mom, I also know that both professions require full focus and dedication to be done well. However you slice it, you still can’t “have it all” but things could always get better and Anne-Marie Slaughter’s suggestions provide a great discussion draft!
What policies are on your “life balance” wish list? Please share in the comments.