July 19, 2012 Practice Points

The Truth as to "Why Women Still Can't Have It All"

By Suzanne L. Jones

Anne-Marie Slaughter's recent article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," published in the June edition of the Atlantic, has reignited the ongoing debate about work-life balance. The article explores the falsehood that women can "have it all." But as Ms. Slaughter has succinctly declared: "It's time to stop fooling ourselves."

Ms. Slaughter aptly points out that if more women could strike a work-life balance, more women would reach leadership positions; in turn, they would make it easier for more women to stay in the workforce. According to Ms. Slaughter, one of the biggest impediments to achieving a work-life balance is the "time macho" culture that still pervades the professional world. The pressure to put in "face time" at the office—arriving early, staying late, and working weekends—is commonly expected, but not necessarily effective. Ms. Slaughter suggests that one way to change this is to change the "baseline expectations about when, where, and how work will be done."

One of Ms. Slaughter's more startling examples of women at the top not being able to "have it all" is in her comparison of the Supreme Court justices. While every male Supreme Court justice has a family, two of the three female justices are single with no children. The third female justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, began her career as a judge only after her youngest child was nearly grown. Similarly, Condoleezza Rice, the first and only woman national-security adviser, is the only national-security adviser since the 1950s who does not have a family.

Ms. Slaughter also identifies the following "half-truths" that women are told—and should stop telling—when discussing how women manage to "have it all":

It's possible if you are just committed enough. This is the argument that women today are not committed enough to make the same sacrifices that women ahead of them have made. In other words, "if we can do it, they can do it." According to Ms. Slaughter, the issue is not a woman's ambition, but rather America's social and business policies that make it difficult for a woman to balance work and life.

It's possible if you marry the right person. This is the proposition that women can have it all if their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load. But Ms. Slaughter notes that society must change and come to collectively value choices that put family ahead of career.

It's possible if you sequence it right. This is the idea that if you order family and career in the right sequence, you can have it all. The problem with this "half-truth" is that neither sequence—kids first, then career; or career first, then kids—is optimal.

Ms. Slaughter notes that to honestly and productively discuss solutions to the issues faced by professional women, these half-truths need to be dispelled. If we can change our assumptions, we can begin to change our perceptions and responses. According to Ms. Slaughter, if women are to achieve real equality as leaders, "we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal."

Keywords: litigation, woman advocate, income, children, career


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