Work-Life balance is important for our future

Labour Party

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.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

This week the prominent and very influential academic, Anne-Marie Slaughter, published an article in the Atlantic called “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”.  The article has caused a great deal of debate online, as such an important subject should.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is the former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs, former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, and currently a full international affairs professor—a named chair, at that—at Princeton.  She says that the inspiration for her article came during her time at the state department, trying to manage that very demanding job whilst caring for her two teenage sons.

There was both stinging criticism and emphatic praise for Slaughter’s piece, which argues that women cannot excel both as high-powered professionals and moms in America today (“having it all”), as we have been long promised by feminists.

Slaughter ultimately feels that women can achieve far better career-family balance – that we can “have it all” – but not until major cultural shifts against structures like “time macho” workaholism take place. Some people were not very happy, however, with the article’s presentation of feminism: that it had lied to a generation of women and grossly oversimplified the tricky realities of working motherhood. Slaughter wrote:

“Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation. But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating ‘you can have it all’ is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.”

Whilst I do respect Slaughter’s view on this subject I’m not sure we should be blaming feminism if women feel that they can’t have a work life balance.  The culture certainly does need to change, for the good of men as well as women, but as far as a I can see the impetus for such change is coming almost solely from women. I’d like to see more support from men so that we can all achieve a better work-life balance.