This month’s cover story in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” has quickly become the most widely read article in the history of the venerable magazine’s website. After being online for only seven days, 775,000 people have read the piece, 155,000 have liked it on Facebook, and the vast majority of major media outlets have weighed in on the matter. So, what is all the fuss about?
The article, written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor and former top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, re-energizes the debate over whether a woman can fulfill her career ambitions while also enjoying a satisfying home life.
The Myth of Having it All
In the article, Slaughter recounts the time in which she struggled to handle both her all-consuming “foreign-policy dream job” in Washington D.C. and her responsibilities as a mom of a two teenage sons. She writes, “Having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office—at least not for very long.” After 18 months, Slaughter stepped down as the first female director of policy planning at the State Department to spend more time with her two sons and return to teaching.
Slaughter contends that if women will ever achieve true equality with men, “we have to stop accepting male behaviors and male choices as the default and ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too.”
Slaughter recommends the following:
1. Changing the Culture of Face Time
“Being able to work from home—in the evening after children are put to bed, or during their sick days or snow days, and at least some of the time on weekends—can be the key, for mothers, to carrying your full load versus letting a team down at crucial moments.”
2. Revaluing Family Values
“The discipline, organization, and sheer endurance it takes to succeed at top levels with young children at home is easily comparable to running 20 to 40 miles a week. But that’s rarely how employers see things, not only when making allowances, but when making promotions. Perhaps because people choose to have children? People also choose to run marathons.”
3. Redefining the Arc of a Successful Career
“Along the way, women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule.”
4. Rediscovering the Pursuit of Happiness
“Last I checked, Thomas Jefferson did not declare American independence in the name of life, liberty, and professional success. Let us rediscover the pursuit of happiness, and let us start at home.”
5. Innovation Nation
“Losing smart and motivated women not only diminishes a company’s talent pool; it also reduces the return on its investment in training and mentoring. In trying to address these issues, some firms are finding out that women’s ways of working may just be better ways of working, for employees and clients alike.”
6. Enlisting Men
“Men have, of course, become much more involved parents over the past couple of decades, and that, too, suggests broad support for big changes in the way we balance work and family. Going forward, women would do well to frame work-family balance in terms of the broader social and economic issues that affect both women and men. After all, we have a new generation of young men who have been raised by full-time working mothers. Let us presume, as I do with my sons, that they will understand ‘supporting their families’ to mean more than earning money.”