Friday, June 22, 2012

Dear Anne-Marie Slaughter: I do have it all (sometimes)

Photo credit: The Atlantic

Happy Friday and all that jazz, I have work and motherhood on my mind today (every day!). There is a new story buzzing around the blogosphere and various websites with the catchy title: "Why women still can't have it all." I know, not again, right? (yes, Ryan, I know what you're thinking). But this is different and I'll tell you why.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is not your typical working mom. In fact, she is in a very privileged position in leaving her dream job (the first woman to be Director of Policy Planning in the State Department, her boss is none other than Hillary Clinton) for her fall back job as a tenured Professor at Princeton (much of the flack she is already receiving has to do with her plum positions at the top of the career ladder, which I'm not sure is fair - isn't she allowed to whine about being a working mom like the rest of us?). Anyway, she quit her dream job at the State Department after only two years, saying Hilary allowed her to make the best decision for her and her family (she was commuting during the week from NJ to DC). She then wrote the cover story for the July/August issue of The Atlantic about why she quit and why she thinks women still can't have it all.

You can read various interviews with Professor Slaughter here and here, and listen to her chat with Terry Gross on Fresh Air yesterday. But what I think makes this story important and relevant is that she says it's time for women to stop trying to make motherhood and careers fit together (there isn't much more we can do) and for the system to finally make careers compatible with family. I'll give you a couple examples:

  • Professor Slaughter says that the daily schedule in the corporate world should correspond with school schedules. Although my kids aren't yet in school, I've heard enough about how difficult working becomes with school age kids (and summers!) to know this would be a huge change for the better. Important face-to-face meetings could occur during school hours and other work could be done remotely, from home after kids are in bed.
  • She makes the point that 'face time' and being the first one in and the last one to leave each day should no longer be the standard by which workers are evaluated (we've all been there). Instead, in a modern world where working remotely is not only doable but sometimes preferred, efficiency and productivity should be emphasized and rewarded. Hear hear.
  • She also says we need to be honest about wanting to leave the office early and go to a child's baseball game or school play, rather than sneaking out or feigning a meeting elsewhere. We should all recognize the importance of that balance for our life happiness and not hide it away or feel guilty about it.
Granted, these ideas would all be much easier for some than others, and certain jobs don't allow for that type of flexibility. Most of these changes would have to occur from the top down - a change in corporate/academic culture. And these are changes that would help all parents, not just mothers. Today's fathers want to be much more involved in their children's lives and yet the attitudes in the corporate world are just not there yet.

I'm constantly wavering back and forth between how much I love my career and how much I want to spend more time with my kids. It's a push/pull that I don't think will ever go away as long as I'm working full time. I was struck by the fact that Anne-Marie Slaughter went back to her job in academia because she felt it awarded her the most flexibility for her family. And it's true - it is the best thing going for me and probably the main reason I'm still doing what I do. On a good day, I feel like I can have it all.  'Having it all' to me means having a fulfilling and successful career, and a family life that both makes me happy and that I am an integral part of. I'm writing this on a good day, for sure. There are many days like this one and this one when I feel far from having it all.

The Atlantic article made me think about what I could do to further the cause and make work more compatible with family in my own small sphere.

Izzy at work with me, on my desk

I try to walk the walk. I am honest about when I spend time with my family and make a point to let my students and colleagues know that I value and protect my family time. I have two men that work for me, both are fathers. I try to give them as much flexibility as I give myself.  After reading this article by Professor Slaughter, I called one of them into my office and told him to arrange his schedule for the summer so he could spend more time with his kids - shorten his days, take every other Friday off - whatever he preferred. I know he will still get his work done and his kids shouldn't have to spend all summer at a baby sitter's house. My graduate student is a new Dad as of two weeks ago. I've given him a lot of space to adjust to his new role and will continue to do so. I told him to take as much time at home with the new baby as he wanted before coming back. I know these are small things. I don't have the power to change policies (or do I??), but it's a start. What if we all just made one little shift in attitude, in acceptance, and then another, and another...?

Happy Friday and wishing you not so deep thoughts for your weekend!

**Update: Another worthy read on the subject here and one more here, and a reminder of all the women left out of Slaughter's conversation here.

7 comments:

  1. I am proud of you for the steps you are taking to make change in your position.. I struggle with this myself, my struggles fall on deaf ears at my job, but nice to know there is a chance someday it may change!

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    1. You have an uphill battle in a male-dominated profession. If anyone can make it work, you can. I hope some changes to the system help you out along the way.

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  2. I have read and then re-read this piece, Paige. I first read it off a facebook link last week and I've read it again after reading your post.
    I have so many thoughts on her thoughts but the bottom line is that it makes me sad. I think it makes me sad because she's basically right. No two situations are alike but I think that her assertion that men don't - for whatever reason - feel the pull like women do, is generally correct.

    Good for you for offering both your female and male colleagues flexibility and for fully supporting them taking advantage of it. I think the hurdle in many workplaces isn't in getting the flexibility, but is actually in taking it without being judged for wanting it in the first place. I think it's often somehow viewed as a sign of weakness, which couldn't be further from the truth.

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    1. Susan - I completely agree with you. Ryan's law office has paternity leave for men and women, 6 months! No Dad has ever taken it and it would be career suicide if they did. A few of the women have taken it, but I think the expectation is that those women aren't really serious about their careers and will eventually quit and stay home. So you are right, having the policies is one thing, feeling ok to use them is another.

      But we have to start somewhere and I think the conversations being generated by this article are a step in the right direction.

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  3. Such an amazing post, Paige!

    I second Susan's comments regarding the guilt for taking the leave. My current boss is very pro-family and makes his a priority, consequently he is understanding of the pull with working parents. That said, I personally feel judged by my co-workers that don't have kids, or older kids. The mere idea of maternity leave puts these people in a tailspin and their vocabulary beings to include the words "unfair" and "lack of focus" with regard to the person taking leave. You're amazing for providing such a wonderful family-friendly work environment - kudos to you! If only that was the norm and not the exception...

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    1. Kara - I agree, why can't we all be on the same side, wanting to have a full life regardless of whether you have kids. I just hope the conversation continues and people start to come around to the same view point, whether female or male, parent or not. We all deserve to be more than a slave to our career.

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  4. I am dumbfounded, and sad. This post hits home on so many levels, good and bad, current and historical, what I am blessed with and what I haven't had in the past, and what I hope to have in the future. Thank you not only for writing it Paige, but for having the guts to DO SOMETHING about it in your workplace.

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