For two years, Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter was the director of policy planning at the State Department. It was her “dream job” — the job she imagined herself doing in college.
“I loved the work,” she tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “It was work I was so passionate about.”
Slaughter commuted to the State Department every week from Princeton, where her husband and two teenage sons lived.
“From Monday through Friday, I would [get to work] between 7 and 8 in the morning and then work all day in the State Department and then rarely got home until 10-11 at night,” she says. “And when things got truly intense, [I stayed] much later than that.”
On weekends, Slaughter traveled back to Princeton to spend time with her family. But in 2011, she decided to leave her dream job and return to New Jersey.
“After two years, I very much wanted to go home,” she says. “And that recognition of wanting to go home was a revelation, in terms of my own ambitions and sense of identity, as somebody who’s always been a career woman and very proud of that and committed to my career, to realize, ‘Wait a minute, we had children. And this is a huge part of my life that I don’t want to miss.’ … I never expected to have that division; I have always been able to integrate work and family. … I didn’t realize that I would feel torn in two.”
Slaughter recently wrote about her experiences in The Atlantic, in a cover story entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In it, she details the balancing act that women face when holding high-powered positions and raising children at the same time. She also details what needs to change both in workplaces and in society to create equal opportunities for all working women.
“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,” she writes. “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.”
Those changes include recognizing the needs of both parents — and giving them both time off — when they first become caregivers. But the deeper problems, Slaughter says, are more cultural — and extend beyond the first months of parenting.
“[We assume] that the worker who works longest is most committed as opposed to valuing time management and efficiency at getting things done over the length of time,” she says. “And second, [we assume] that that time has to be spent at the office.”
What that means, Slaughter says, is that primary caregivers are constantly facing the choice of being seen as less professional if they leave work early — even if they’re then doing work at home.
“A female reporter wrote to me after reading the article yesterday and said, ‘For almost 30 years, I’ve been feeling guilty for leaving at 6 to try to catch that last inning of my son’s baseball game and my editors think I’m just not as committed to my job as my male peers, but the other parents think I’m not that committed to my child and I feel like a failure in both places,’” she says. “Whereas if you let women work when they need to get the work done — when they leave the office but then go back to their computers later, they’ll get the job done. But they’ll do it when they need to do it, juggling what’s most important.”
On time management
“If you said, ‘Look, what I want is to prioritize time management, not in terms of who logs the most hours in the office, but I’m going to look at who gets the most work done in the shortest amount of time — the most and highest quality amount of work in the shortest amount of time, because I privilege efficiency and productivity and I think frankly people who can do that are reliable and professional, and that’s going to be my measure,’ I think you’d be very surprised in terms of who’s actually doing the best work. I think a lot of this needs to shift, not in terms of thinking, ‘Oh, I need to hire women’ but in ‘What are the norms of this office and how can I allow people to lead the lives they need to lead and do the best and highest-quality work?’”
On differential pressures
“It’s hard to articulate exactly that sense of taboo but effectively in my generation, when we’re in public, we say ‘women can have it all’ and we don’t acknowledge differences between men and women. So we don’t talk about differential pressures in terms of having kids, much less different feelings about work and children. But when the doors are shut, there’s a tremendous amount of discussion of the difficulties. Without men present, then a very different conversation goes on.”
On women at the State Deptartment
“It is much harder for a woman who is working in government, who is based elsewhere, to move her family to Washington when her husband’s working and her kids are in school and have doctors and playdates than it is for a man, who has a wife not working outside the home, to move the family to Washington. It is not easy in any case, but when it’s the woman who’s moving to Washington, there’s nobody to move the family. So many of these women [at the State Department] are commuting and all of them had the same kinds of stresses I did. … We all got together at one point and people were saying how difficult this was and finally someone said, ‘Why are we doing this?’ and someone else said, ‘Because we’re role models and it’s important for other people to do it’ and I think we all believed that but we also recognize that something had to give.”
On delaying kids when balancing a career
“My generation of women knew we wanted to be career women. We went to graduate school. And then many of us faced [questions like]: Do you want to make partner? Are you going to try to be a board-certified physician? Are you going to try to be a tenured professor? Are you going to do that first? If so, it’s going to be very hard to have kids then. So delayed childbearing — I had my second child at 40. I got tenure when I was 35 and then started trying. It took a while. So the result is, in my mid-50s, you would think I’d be free to take the best or biggest job I possibly could, that’s exactly when my kids are teenagers. So I’m very privileged to be in academics but I worked very hard to be in a tenured position before I had kids.”
On when to have kids
“I don’t think there’s one path. I think every woman faces different choices. But it’s tough because biologically, there’s a range where women can have biological children and if that’s what you want to do, then you are going to have to make some tradeoffs — either then or later.”