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A 'work/life revolution' needed, Slaughter says

Tuesday, October 22, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Women should be able to integrate work and life responsibilities, not choose between care-giving and bread-winning, according to Anne-Marie Slaughter, president, New America Foundation, who addressed "The Coming Work/Family Revolution at the NEW Leadership Summit, Oct. 22, 2013 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.

Slaughter shared her insights on the corporate policies, programs and realities surrounding work/life "balance,” with the more than 1,000 industry executives and emerging leaders attending her keynote speech.

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"Feminism has stalled,” Slaughter said, "but we are still in a completely different world than the world I grew up in.”

Still, women and corporate America are "all looking at what women should or shouldn’t do, which puts the onus on women to advance,” said the former State Department official and mother of two.

The issue of work/life "balance” is tied too strongly to women alone, she said. "A woman needs an income and a room of one’s own,” said Slaughter, paraphrasing Virginia Woolf. "I don’t want a room of my own, disconnected. I want a room connected to a larger house, full of people I love.”

The notions of care-giving and competition must be rethought, Slaughter said.

Breadwinners who are caregivers can be accommodated by their companies and organizations. "Flexibility makes companies better and more productive. The barrier is the stigma that attaches to those policies. If you take advantage of those policies, you are less likely to take the leadership track. For women in particular, you are marching right into the stereotype that we are trying to overcome.

"We cannot change this unless people who take the flexibility are equally valued and equally considered for the leadership track. Nobody wants to talk about fighting the flexibility stigma.”

Care vs. competition

If corporate America considered "care” as important as "competition,” "that would mean a mental health system that worked. That would mean all sorts of affordable, preferably onsite, quality day care. A healthcare [system] that worked for the poorest among us, as well as the wealthiest.”

Along with the women’s movement, "I think we need a men’s movement,” Slaughter said. "Boys are still being told, 'If you want to be respected, you have to be a breadwinner.’”

Women are given the choice to be breadwinners or caregivers, while men are still expected to be breadwinners, she noted. "[Men] should be as valued for giving care, as [women] are capable of competing. Men have not been socialized to be caregivers, but they can be every bit as effective as caregivers as we are.

"We have to let them [men] do it their way,” Slaughter said. "We have to let them be fully competent, but they’re going to do it a different way.”

For women to succeed, competition and support must coexist, she said. "If you lean in too far, you can tip over, unless you have a support system in place, with someone who is care-giving,” Slaughter said. "What we need to do, in our personal lives, in our workplaces, in our society is make that support system visible. You can’t succeed competing unless someone is doing an equal amount of care-giving. And you have to value both of them equally.”

Slaughter expanded on her call for a more balanced society at a special breakout session following her keynote address. "There's a lot in our own society we don't celebrate. We talk about rugged individualism, but we don't talk about the barn-raisings and quilting bees that are also part of our culture."

Citing Alexis de Tocqueville, she said Americans need "habits of the heart" to balance the drive for individual success.

Commenting on Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer's decision to limit flex work for her employees, Slaughter said the decision "made sense" for the business but added that "the optics were terrible. You can't build a nursery next to your office and then ban everyone else from having flex time." She predicted that Yahoo! would offer work/life options again "eventually."

Asked by an audience member what she thought of board quotas imposed by some European governments, Slaughter said it was probably more important to have female CEOs. 

The issue of work/life balance is tied too strongly to solely
women, Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of New
American Foundation, told the crowd at the NEW Summit.

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