The now semi-infamous Atlantic article by Ann-Marie Slaughter, who left her job as the first woman Director of Policy Planning at the State Department to return to her teaching position at Princeton University so that she could spend more time with her teenage sons, has women of all professions once again debating the conundrum of work-life balance.
In the last five days the article has received almost 800,000 hits and is the most “liked” article in The Atlantic’s website history, evidence, Slaughter said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, of the public’s desire for change in a workplace that is “still set up for men.”
As a young professional my dream is to have it all so I appreciate Slaughter for speaking so honestly about the barriers – inflexible schedules, constant travel and the pressure to be in the office 24/7 – that limit women from growing their power careers.
Slaughter not only calls for more flexibility in the workplace but also for setting young women up for success before their careers start. As she put it earlier today: “Lots of women could do this better if we gave them more flexibility…and over the course of your career there are going to be times you may need to step back.”
This straight talk helps women of my generation not only understand the hard choices that we may need to make someday soon, but sets us on a path to create the change we want for our futures.
Slaughter says when she’s asked by young women about how she manages to have it all, she’s guilty of upholding the “half-truths we hold so dear”, such as “It’s possible if you are just committed enough” and “It’s possible if you sequence it right”. I’ve heard this advice reiterated in different ways and even in different languages, but I never thought to challenge these “half-truths” that I thought were conventional words of wisdom until now.
The goal of having it all is one of the reasons why I’m considering starting my own business. Something I’ve learned in my work at The Story Exchange is that many women become entrepreneurs to gain control over their schedules so that they can be their own boss and raise children.
Being an entrepreneur can be just as demanding as a high level government or corporate job, but at least you call the shots. And as a business owner I could be a co-creator of the more flexible workplace that Slaughter is calling for. To me, having a job that I’m passionate about, with the flexibility to raise a family would be having it all.
To change the landscape for the career-oriented mom and begin to fill positions of higher power with women involves as Slaughter puts it, “fighting the mundane battles—every day, every year—in individual workplaces, in legislature, and in the media.” I think my generation is ready for the fight. As ambitious as we are, our naiveté and idealism is perfect fuel to pioneer a progressive working lifestyle that can work for both genders.
And if we start now, perhaps in 20 years time, we can finally say, women can have it all (and hopefully men can too).