Our Monday gender issue focus
I can still recall reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s explanation of why women could not “have it all.” Published almost exactly 2 years ago in The Atlantic, the article focused on Dr. Slaughter’s decision to leave a high level State Department position in Washington, DC. Because she was returning to her family, to a teenage son who needed her, and to Princeton University, she faced criticism for her career decision.
From the front page of the NY Times to media around the country, the response was heated. Some expressed sympathy while others felt she should have kept quiet. All though concentrated on the work/home dilemma that many women face.
Having just read a paper about “having it all,” I realized that the reaction to the Atlantiic article needed to be framed differently. The decision facing many women is more complex than choosing between family and work. Instead, it is about prioritizers, sequencers and delegators.
Asked if they could have it all, the women in this group reply, “No, but I can have what is most important.” Examples in the paper included women who opted for no children because they wanted more affluence or career satisfaction. Others said because they wanted a family focus, they did not mind working less and having less.
When asked if they could have it all, a second group said, “Yes, but not all at once.” You can see that these women sought to identify a chronology and to minimize conflict. First, perhaps work, but then they would stop and have children. Women who were sequencers perceived choices that were too consuming to do all at once.
It was the third group that came closest to trying to have it all at the same time. They believed the combination of family and work was feasible if they delegated some tasks to friends or family or spouses or hired help. One delegator had a nanny living at home, someone doing her grocery shopping, another doing her personal bookkeeping. You can see that many of the delegators needed sufficient wealth and discipline to achieve success.
A second goal of the paper was to look at which approach works. The answer was, “It depends.” For some of the women, their initial strategy was fine. Others had to modify and even switch as their lives developed. And yes, among the prioritizers, the sequencers and the delegators, there were women who regretted their decisions.
Our bottom line? At work and at home we are always thinking at the margin. Doing a little more or a little less, the tradeoffs are not necessarily gargantuan like work or home.
Can women have it all? Please do let us know your response in comment.