An Action Oriented Discussion with Dr. Anne Marie Slaughter

At thePrinceton Club on April 10, 2013

Hearing Dr. Anne Marie Slaughter and Andrew Romano speak about work/life balance at the Princeton Club left me energized, hopeful, and armed with an action plan.The Princeton Club!

When Dr. Slaughter analogized this paradigm shift to the evolution of smoking- from commonplace to near extinct, I understood that advancement begins slowly. After a tipping point – in the case of smoking policy change- momentum brings us to a new normal.

The dialogue between Slaughter, Romano and the audience fluidly wove between the individual and cultural changes we can make towards achieving work/life balance and the broader, policy-driven reforms. The empowering piece is that while pushing for the policy to change, we can strategically and thoughtfully position ourselves right now for a more integrated life both for ourselves and for generations to come.

Here were some of the highlights:

It’s Not Child Care, It’s Family Care. An intergenerational discussion about family dynamics is becoming the new norm. As our population ages, parents will need more of our care. Slaughter’s phrase “you can choose to be a parent, you don’t choose to be a child” takes the laser focus off of mothers balancing career and childcare. The subject now unites men and women- whether they have children or not. This is a current challenge, and the conversation needs to expand to consider flextime or leave options for “family care”, which places value on care for all generations within the family unit.

Our Society Doesn’t Care About Care. 80% of Swedish men take paternity leave. Men can actually be penalized if they don’t take time off. This policy mandate has changed the societal attitude of the country. The results are impressive; family life is richer, including a decline in the divorce rate since 1995, where elsewhere divorce rates are rising. The fact that the government has taken the lead in this initiative sends a clear signal to citizens that their society thinks about the well being of its citizens. Culture won’t truly change until policies do.

A New Working Vocabulary. We walked away with some strong action suggestions:

o Individuals can begin changing subliminal messaging by replacing the term parental leave for maternity leave.

o Instead of segregating women as working mothers, let’s include fathers with the title of working fathers. For better or for worse, men are now feeling the strain women have felt for years. Working fathers are also experiencing the “second shift”, also known as the double burden; balancing domestic and work tasks for the first time.

o When a man shares that ‘we’re expecting’ – question him, as most question the woman. “How are you going to manage that?” “What changes will you be making?” A child changes the way both men and women manage work and family life.

Socialize Our Children For Modern Realities. Girls used to be all but trained to do the laundry while boys were told never to concern themselves with the pile of clothes. Children can be exposed to a new type of partnership now. Regardless of gender, partners should work together at home- as partners. Sheryl Sandberg has a chapter in Lean In on accepting how your partner does the housework if you really want to be a partnership. “Done is better than perfect”, she wisely suggests. My attitude is, “there is no such thing as perfect”. We, as women are asking to be given a fair chance to be promoted, to become leaders in business, to sit on boards, to be players at the table. At home, we must give the man the chance to be equal partners. Don’t tell him he did it all wrong when you get home. There’s more than one-way to skin a pineapple, and besides, done is better than perfect.

The Modern Workplace. We face a double whammy. First, we still rely on antiquated work schedules as the norm. Flex time participants are looked at with resentment, and still feel that they’re expected to always be on. Thanks to digital advances, 24/7 availability is expected. The changing contours of jobs require a repositioning of boundaries. We must make time constraints and commitments known. Carve out our own time, and let our colleagues know about our availability.

Strategic Positioning is Key. Average life expectancy is now 89 years. Will people still be retiring at 65- perhaps living for 3 decades without work? Will retirees be able to afford this? We have an opportunity to rethink the pacing of our career. Can women take the time to raise children and be on track to reach partner at 50? A well thought out strategy is mandatory if this is to come true. Slowing down on a career trajectory to raise children and being a valuable employee aren’t mutually exclusive. Keeping relevant in your network and keeping current are musts if power player is a chosen destination. Whereas a biological clock has a deadline, promotion to partner need not be exclusively dictated by age.

It’s Personal. Many women choose not to gun for top positions. Evaluation of career success differs from person to person. The goal shouldn’t be a laser focus on numbers of women in leadership but career satisfaction in a chosen profession, while having the ability to contribute to a family unit.

It’s abundantly clear that I am not the only one empowered and energized by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s message and the conversation around work-life balance that is emerging around “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”. In fact, part of Slaughter’s message at The Princeton Club panel was to convey the voluminous and highly charged response – from men and women of all ages –to her article, currently the most read in The Atlantic’s history.

I encourage you all to continue to have a strong response and continue to have these conversations. We are eager to hear what you think!