Sheryl Sandberg Can Have It All

Slaughter doesn’t mince words in her Atlantic article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. “The women who have managed to
be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed.” Yet,
when I occasionally broach her article and thinking to young professional
women, they look at me like I’m from outer space. Maybe it’s just because I’m
using the wrong sample.But since I have three professional daughters—two with
children—it’s important for me, as a father—and grandfather,–to call attention
to her seminal shot across the bow at feminist assumptions. I’m not going to
stake out a position. I don’t trust my insights on the issue. The 1960’s, ‘70s,
and ‘80s, when our kids were growing up, sure ain’t today. But I do think every
professional woman who has children or is considering having children should be
aware of Slaughter’s thoughtful contributions to the family/career conversation.Who is Slaughter?Princeton Professor, former Director of Policy Planning
at the US State Department, prolific researcher and writer with regular print
and online columns, foreign policy expert, gives 40 to 50 speeches a year,
married with two teen boys and husband on the Princeton faculty. She is an “international
lawyer” who has “taught at the
University of Chicago and Harvard University, and is a former president of the
American Society of International Law.”What’s the
context?Women who are professionals, leaders in a position of
power who are both mothers and professionals: the work/family balance problem.What’s her
argument?Women (and sometimes their husbands) hold a number of
half-truths and myths dear.It’s possible if you are just commited enough.It’s possible if you marry the right person.It’s possible if you sequence it right.Her argument is that you should be able to have a family
whenever your life circumstances allow and still have the career you desire.
But the culture is going to have change.The arc of the
successful career needs to be—and can be—redefined.The mid-twentieth century life-span has
increased from 70 to 80 years of age. Women in good health can easily work until they’re
75.The leadership climb is not a straight upward
slope, but irregular stair steps.Institutions can promote the redefinition.Actually, the high-profile Michelle Obama has
set a superb pattern.So what?Actually, a more balanced life is not a women’s issue.
It would be better for all of us. A personal sidebar: I began as a church
minister, but got frustrated by the lack of diverse personal opportunities
(even in two college towns), salary and little evening or weekend time for my
young daughters and wife. I created an opportunity to move to a teaching
position at a theological seminary which gave me time for my family and
provided unique opportunities for further education and dipping my foot into
extracurricular consulting. The move resolved the problems of time for my
children and opportunity, but didn’t resolve the salary problem (try sending three
kids to top schools on a professorial salary). I gradually moved into full-time
consulting (on a national basis), which gave me the ability to manage my own
time and opportunities. It also resolved the salary problem.Yeah, I know. I was very fortunate. But it was also the
result of a great deal of insight, strategic planning and collaboration with my beloved wife, a professional woman, struggling with the same issue.Big lesson:
Erik Erikson is correct. Satisfying relationships, achieving happy children
(now adults) and personal contributions to the community at large bring
integrity to aging.Slaughter’s
beliefs: I still strongly believe
that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can
“have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s
economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past
three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that
need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.Flickr photo: poptech
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