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Why Women Still Can’t Have It All: The Reader’s Digest Version

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Been hearing the buzz about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have it All in The Atlantic? Ms. Slaughter is hosting an event in New York City next week to discuss the hotly-debated piece– and for all of us out there who are working too many hours to stretch out and enjoy her very thoughtful (and time-worthy) gazillion-page article, here’s everything you need to know in CliffsNotes form. Thank us when she answers your life-changing question at the event!


Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have it All in July’s Atlantic Monthly has ignited a media firestorm around the debate of women in the workforce. Slaughter places the blame upon the institutions and current structure of American society for the gender gap at the top. She points to her experience holding a high-profile position in government as the moment when she realized it was impossible to balance her responsibilities as a parent and a professional and continue to meet her high expectations of each role. As the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, Slaughter was taking part in a required two-year public service leave from Princeton University where she is Professor of Politics and International Affairs. She was initially ecstatic to land her dream job working in foreign policy, yet quickly faced challenges juggling her family with high-level government work. While Slaughter originally believed she would continue her career in government past the required two-year period, she instead found herself rushing home after the stint, grateful for an excuse to step down from high-profile government work.

Upon her return, Slaughter was shocked at the disappointed and condescending reactions from her female peers by her decision to step down. Unfamiliar to being the woman on the other side, the woman choosing family over career to alleviate unresolvable tensions, she began to question her unwavering feminist beliefs upon which she had built her career. Could women really have it all in today’s society? Despite what she had been raised to believe and what she had told herself throughout her career, Slaughter came to the conclusion that while women can have it all and they can have it all at once, it is not possible with the current structure of today’s society. The contrast in the responses she heard from her peers, who fiercely upheld the feminist credo, and those of young professional women compelled Slaughter to write the article. She felt the need to address the misleading statement that women could have it all if they were committed enough, married the right person, and found the right sequence of career and family. In her article, Slaughter includes six solutions for creating a society that works for women.

Changing the Culture of Face Time

Today’s society places an extraordinary amount of importance on the idea that more time in the office means more value added. In fact, statistics have shown that the opposite is true. While working long hours is sometimes unavoidable, Slaughter points out that advances in technology allow for the integration of on-site and off-site work. It is up to companies to begin implementing these changes to relieve the pressure upon women and men to arrive early, stay late and be available at any time for in-person meetings. Being able to work from home can make a huge difference for mothers. But even with technology that allows for such communications, the expectations of where work should be done must change before women can work from home without the risk of facing resentment from co-workers at the office.

Revaluing Family Values

Slaughter is frustrated that employers continue to place low value on childcare compared to other activities. For example, she contrasts the assumptions an employer makes between two equally skilled employees, the first who is training for a marathon, and the second who is a parent. The employer assumes the marathon trainer, who is committed to training at odd hours of the day and pushing through exhaustion after working long hours in the office, must be extremely driven. Yet while the parent must also rise early, be organized and disciplined to raise a child and succeed professionally, the employer does not automatically attribute these traits to the parent perhaps because of society’s perception that because one chooses to have a child, that person should not receive the same allowances other employees might receive.

Redefining the Arc of a Successful Career

Young professionals are under the impression that he or she must climb the career ladder quickly, with as few detours as possible in the shortest amount of time, so that they may peak in their 40s and 50s. While this made sense for our predecessors, Slaughter argues, people are now living into their 70s and 80s and therefore, there is no reason to peak at such a young age. She encourages young professionals, women especially, to take advantage of career plateau opportunities which she coins “investment intervals,” to spend time with their families. Slaughter hopes we can break the stereotype that you must climb straight up the corporate ladder to achieve success. Why not peak in your 50s and 60s and appreciate those moments in your career when you can “stair step” and invest your time in other important fields?

Rediscovering the Pursuit of Happiness

Slaughter wished she had advocated for a more manageable work schedule while she was working in the State Department and believes she could have stayed on another two years if she had been able to better integrate her family into her life in Washington. She calls for all professionals to seek a balanced life, and quotes an Australian blogger who worked in palliative care, that the second most common regret was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” Slaughter hopes to dispel the fear that women would be discriminated against if they showed a lack of commitment to their work.

Innovative Nation

Most women in the workforce do not have the power to demand flexible work hours and family-friendly policies from their employers. Slaughter draws upon statistics that demonstrate the positive effects of extensive family-friendly policies upon an organization such as a boost in economic performance after the implantation of such policies. Companies are realizing the cost of losing smart and talented women due to poor family-work policies and are beginning to make changes, but there is much progress to be made.

Enlisting Men

Slaughter notes that men are becoming increasingly involved as parents and are also wondering how to balance work life with their family life. The culture on flexible working is beginning to change and while men may not be ready to make the same compromises as women, it is important to draw upon the larger social and economic issues that affect both genders when discussing solutions to finding the balance between work and family.

Slaughter concludes her article with a quote from Lisa Jackson, in a speech at Princeton, “empowering yourself doesn’t have to mean rejecting motherhood, or eliminating the nurturing or feminine aspects of who you are.” Slaughter insists that it is up to women to change the social policies and adapt career paths to accommodate our choices, in order to finally achieve equality as leaders.

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