A year ago Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning in the United States State Department under Hillary Clinton, resigned her job. It was indeed a job to die for, but Slaughter realised that she wanted to spend more time with her husband and children, especially her 14-year-old son who was going through a troubled time.
The Sunday Times reported how Ms Slaughter talked to a group of women at Oxford University, saying: “I just got up there and started talking about how incredibly hard it had been and how it had changed my assumptions about my entire career trajectory.”
Slaughter believes we have reached a tipping point. It is just too hard for women to have it all. As men’s as well as women’s lives are changing, Slaughter and other women at the top of their professions want us as a society to address the way we still see paid work, and, of course, the corollary of work in the home and bringing up children.
One partner in a leading law firm quoted in the Sunday Times made a very telling point: “We’ve got to change what it means to be a partner because otherwise we are not going to be able to attract the best young men, as well as the women.”
Whet this albeit anecdotal evidence shows is that the younger generation of men are looking for more balance between their work and family life. I find this encouraging. If we are to have an equal society for men and women with both able to make equal choices the question of work, children, domestic and caring responsibilities, men need to be involved. Women and men should be seen as equal.
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s immediate goal is to close the leadership gap. She is absolutely right when she says that it will only be possible to forge a society which really works for equality when women wield power both corporately and professionally in sufficient numbers.
Slaughter sees an overhaul of school timetables which are based on the assumption that women do not go out to work as essential. She also thinks we need a change in the male-driven work culture of presenteeism, including more home-working and flexi-time, to allow more balance between work and home life.
Interestingly, Slaughter calls for women in employment to talk about juggling childcare and domestic responsibilities with their work. She is certain that if men knew what women have to deal with they would be more ready to make changes.
Anne-Marie Slaughter has, I believe, done us all a service by being so open about her own experience. Work-life balance is one of the biggest challenges our society faces. Women are now expected to work and very often need to for economic reason. For most women staying at home is not an option. We need to address this huge question in a far more rational and thought through way than is currently the case.