Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article paints a bleak portrait of the situation facing women trying to “have it all.” This is frustrating for a variety of reasons: both because it seems unjust, and because everything we know about leadership and group decision-making indicates that diversity of perspectives increases productivity, and that diverse social and work environments increase happiness and fulfillment.
On the bright side, we have a chance to fix it. I don’t use “we” here to mean women specifically (I’m a man) or society generally, but rather our generation. A striking passage in Slaughter’s article discusses the sense of being robbed that women of her generation feel when they realize that the 50-50 graduating classes of their colleges and graduate schools have not translated to a 50-50 breakdown at the top of their fields a few decades later.
Whereas their generation understandably assumed that if higher education was equal that the rest would follow, we know better. Without getting too caught up in the 50-50 breakdown that Slaughter implies is the end goal (it’s very possible that more women will always gravitate towards care-giving than men, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing), it is well within our power to move the needle, and to make sure we and our peers feel less constrained by the system and more able to choose the ideal personal path.
Slaughter has some great practical suggestions late in her article for steps that can be taken to change social norms and improve the family-work cultural dynamic. Lots of these are being implemented already, but it will realistically be up to those of us graduating and entering the workforce in the next few years to execute them, propose new ideas, and demand that things like flexibility enhancing technology, novel work schedule arrangements, and the general work/family balance be up for discussion. It shouldn’t be controversial to suggest that our society is arranged in a way that might prevent women (or anyone else) from “having it all.” That’s not defeatist or bitter—it’s a call to action. By normalizing these types of discussions, people our age can start to heed that call.