Work/Life Balance: Sheryl Sandberg Can Have It All

Anne-Marie 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.

Slaughter, anne marieWho 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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