A Stop on the Work-Life Balance Tour

104772212Anne-Marie Slaughter reignited a long-fiery debate about women in the workforce when she wrote “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” for the July/Aug. 2012 issue of Atlantic Magazine.

“My willingness to tell my own story was like igniting a national therapy group,” she said.

She came to Wharton in February 2013 to talk on the topic of work-life balance and to field calls from female students and professionals about their own challenges.

A professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, Slaughter confessed that she wrote the essay in part because her peers were telling her that she shouldn’t, and in part because her students told her she had to. Younger women, she said, do not like the professional and personal choices they are faced with because of work.

Anne-Marie Slaughter. Photo credit: Denise Applewhite.

Anne-Marie Slaughter. Photo credit: Denise Applewhite.

Slaughter stressed that she is not attacking feminism. After all, without the feminist movement she wouldn’t have her career in academia nor her position as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, a spot she held from 2009 to 2011. It was during this post that she faced the choice—her job or her family—that inspired her essay. She feels that women have come far enough that this discussion can take place without setting them back.

Perhaps most surprising are the reactions that “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” has received from male readers. Slaughter has gotten letters from older men who are now witnessing their daughters struggling with work-life choices. Fathers of young families wrote her about their experiences in the workplace with male gender stereotypes—that they should be giving up their family lives for long hours at the office.

On this last point, Slaughter believes that work-life balance is not just a women’s issue, but a social, political and economic issue for the United States as a whole.

“I see it as a problem of the systematic disadvantaging of caregivers,” she said.

She called for cultural change at the workplace from the current one that values the employee who works hardest and longest.

Slaughter reported that she has also received correspondence after “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” from business leaders, who claim to be convinced that things need to change in their companies.

Change is indeed already taking place. One manifestation is the emergence of the “results-only workplace” (ROW) environment, where employers treat workers like “adults.”

“This is not playtime. This is real,” she said.

Slaughter spoke on Feb. 6, 2013, at the University of Pennsylvania as part of the Authors@Wharton series, sponsored by the Wharton Leadership Program.

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