Can Women Have It All? [Be Inkandescent]
Can women have it all? That’s the question that has been hotly debated since Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote her controversial essay, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” in the July/August issue of Atlantic magazine.
In addition to serving as the director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011, she is mom to two teenage boys. To keep all the balls in the air, she lived in DC during the week, returning home only on weekends to be with her supportive husband and kids. And therein lay the rub.
“Eighteen months into my job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan, I found myself in New York, at the United Nations’ annual assemblage of every foreign minister and head of state in the world,” she writes.
“On a Wednesday evening, President and Mrs. Obama hosted a glamorous reception at the American Museum of Natural History. I sipped champagne, greeted foreign dignitaries, and mingled. But I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started 8th grade three weeks earlier and was already resuming what had become his pattern of disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him.”
Soon after, Slaughter finished her term and went back to her family, and her position as a faculty member at Princeton University. She realized, “The minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence.
“I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office—at least not for very long.”
Closing the Gap
And so, Slaughter began her current journey to spread the message about what researchers Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers have coined the new gender gap.
Slaughter believes: “The best hope for improving the lot of all women, and for closing the ‘new gender gap‘—measured by well-being rather than wages—is to close the leadership gap: to elect a woman president and 50 women senators; to ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.”
For starters, Slaughter insists we need to let go of the “half-truths we hold dear: It’s possible if you are just committed enough. It’s possible if you marry the right person. It’s possible if you sequence it right.
And, she suggests we: Change the culture of face time. Revalue family values. Redefine the arc of a successful career. Rediscover the pursuit of happiness. Become an “Innovation Nation.” Enlist men.
“You should be able to have a family if you want one—however and whenever your life circumstances allow—and still have the career you desire,” Slaughter says, noting that every male Supreme Court justice has a family; and two of the three female justices are single with no children. “If more women could strike this balance, more women would reach leadership positions. And if more women were in leadership positions, they could make it easier for more women to stay in the workforce.”
Click here to learn more about Slaughter’s revolutionary plan.
What do some of Be Inkandescent’s Truly Amazing Women think: Can women have it all?
We got responses from dozens of Truly Amazing Women, Millennials, and men. And we begin the discussion with these thoughts from deputy assistant secretary of human rights and democracy at the US Department of State, Karen Hanrahan.
Who she is: Last month, Karen J. Hanrahan accepted this new position within the Obama Administration. Formerly, she was director and COO of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, where she led a comprehensive project for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to redefine how the US government practices international development and diplomacy. She has also been a senior advisor to the Iraqi minister of human rights. Hanrahan and her husband, Dean, are also new parents to Jordan, 18 months.
So, can women have it all? Clearly, this deeply personal question varies by age, race, socioeconomic status, and personal goals. And, it evolves for each of us as we advance in our lives, ideally gaining wisdom along the way. I think women spend too much time judging each other for such personal views—and too little time figuring out ways to support diverse life decisions.
For some, one aspect of “having it all” is power. I have always believed there are too few women at the most senior levels of of decision-making. I’m talking about positions in which decisions are made that influence the world, the nation, the state. Women are desperately needed in these positions because of our way of leading, communicating, and viewing the world. But we are facing unique challenges. Although it is true that a relatively narrow band of women makes it to this level, we should spend more time finding ways to raise more women up rather than judging them for trying to get there.
Do you have any regrets? I have spent my life pursuing my professional dreams—and have been able to achieve many of them, including reaching a relatively senior level in the field I’ve always wanted to work in. I’ve always put my work first, often at the expense of relationships and life balance in general. I became indispensable because I was always available, responsive, and filling my time with activities to improve my performance.
Then, at the age of 40, I had a child. Although this changed me in fundamental ways, my ambition did not diminish, nor did my commitment to quality of work or advancement. What did change was my ability to be constantly available, seven days a week, working most of the time, and reading or writing to make sure I was the smartest person at the table.
The most senior positions in the institutions I’ve worked in come with a crushing workload. A constant, 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week workload that is never complete. It demands constant attention and leaves room for little else. As I’ve risen through the ranks, I’ve watched my smart, ambitious female colleagues drop by the wayside as they build families.
And, I’ve noticed a pattern: The more senior a woman gets, the less likely she is to make it to the next level if she has children and takes steps to see those children, even if it’s only for 30 minutes on each end of a long day. As I take up another new senior assignment—with an 18-month toddler waiting at home—I understand why. I draw a new boundary, leaving the office at 5:30 p.m. and reserving a 2-3 hour window when I am not available. Then I go back to work until I go to bed. My colleagues at the same level do not have such boundaries.
Hanrahan’s advice for others: Boundaries are healthy—whether you work for the government, yourself, or don’t work at all. There is so much to having a happy, successful life. I think we all need to take a step back and consider the bigger picture.