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"Many women who started out with all the ambition in the world find themselves in a place they never expected to be. They do not choose to leave their jobs; they are shut out by the refusal of their bosses to make it possible for them to fit their family life and their work life together...This looks like a 'women’s problem,' but it’s not. It’s a work problem — the problem of an antiquated and broken system."

From my New York Times article: http://nyti.ms/1NBM3RQ
This Q&A took place between 10/9/15 and 10/16/15. Unanswered questions have been hidden
16 questions
Product Guy / Fellow @ Harvard Ash Center
Congrats on the launch of your book! Looking forward to reading it.

I enjoyed reading your piece. I can't agree more that this is not a woman problem, it's a work problem. I grew up in the Middle East where the situation gets far more complicated due to long embraced outdated social norms. Two questions:

1) Are there any other countries that you believe are doing a better job at tackling this challenge? What would the US learn from these countries (if any)?

2) You pointed out how tech companies are offering extended family leaves, what would it take to promote that within other sectors? How effective would that be vs. focusing on legislation and policy changes?
Virtually all of the other OECD countries are doing better than the U.S. at investing in the next generation (their human capital, after all) and caring for their elders by making room for workers also to be caregivers. That said, some of them go too far in the direction of assuming that it is WOMEN who are going to be the caregivers, giving women so much time off (and expecting them to take it) that women become less desirable to hire and less competitive when they try to come back. That is why the U.S. actually has more female CEOs than any other country and competes with Sweden for the percentage (just over 20%) of women in senior management positions in the private sector. All the Nordic countries do much better than the U.S. in the public sector. I often point to Germany as a country that is often very macho but that has introduced "use it or lose it" paternity leave -- two months that are only for fathers and thus that if a man does not take he is leaving money on the table. That is really beginning to change the culture around fatherhood as much as motherhood; women cannot be equal as long as we assume that both men and women can be breadwinners but only women can be caregivers.

On the question about tech companies offering extended family leave, that is a great harbinger of a changing culture among the most affluent young Americans, but it is no substitute for collective action. To make the kind of change that ALL women need in the U.S. and other countries, we really have to work through the political system as well -- this is both/and rather than either/or. It is government's job to make the market; to level the playing field for all businesses by establishing mandates for paid family leave, maternity/paternity leave, and by creating as many incentives as possible for providers to compete in offering affordable quality childcare and eldercare. The point is to make a business case for attracting and retaining high quality talent by letting people be BOTH professionals and parents/caregivers and also a political case.
Dear Ann-Marie, I've been & still a huge fan since August 2012 when I 1st read your article on The Atlantic & been following you since then.

My Q: How can women in the Middle East be truly understood by their counterparts in the west especially in social affairs and policy making? As I'm a total believer that there is no one size fits all and we do have common interests but our progression differs based on various circumstances.
Dear Noura, thanks so much for writing! I quite agree with you that what the West sees so often is the external attributes of many Middle East women -- the headscarf or the veil or the dress -- rather than their internal dynamism, education, energy and sophistication. Part of it is to call out how different Middle Eastern men look too -- but no one these days thinks that a Middle Eastern man in a dishdasha is somehow oppressed and incapable of participating in business or intellectual discussions. I think social media is making a difference; I follow and am followed by many terrific women in the Middle East whom I would not otherwise be able to come into contact with. I also think that UN Women might consider running a campaign equivalent to the Benetton diversity ads -- showing women from every culture in the world but underlining that we are all women under our clothes and we want eqality but we may choose to emphasize different issues and pursue it in different ways. Open debates like this one are also very important.
Author of "Now I Know Who My Comrades Are"
Dear Anne-Marie, thank you so much for answering our questions. You are also well known as a foreign policy expert. Do your arguments about women and work intersect with your views on foreign policy, and if so, how?
Such an interesting question! And perhaps only one that a woman would ask.... I have not worked this through fully, but I increasingly realize that when I look at work/family issues and I look at the world I see and feel and empathize with the actual lives of individual people as much as I interpret what I see through the abstract concepts of statecraft or professionalism or career trajectories. It is important to look through those concepts and see the world not just of competition and rational agency (the way international relations scholars analyze the behavior of states), but rather the reality of families and friends, the web of relationships that in many ways define our existence as human beings and determines our success. In the workplace I am fighting against an abstract model of how you are supposed to succeed that was developed when the workers involved had full time caregivers at home; in foreign policy I am fighting against an abstract model of "states" and "state interests" that ignores the actual experience of their citizens. When I look at Syria, I don't just see a proxy war among powers like Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. I imagine what it would be like to be a parent and be completely unable to protect my children. To have to flee with my parents, who are over 80, and see them bewildered and unable to keep up or to adapt the harsh conditions of refugee life; to see my sons and brothers massacred in a war not of their making. I think of that and then imagine how I would feel toward the government who did it and the countries, like the United States, who SAY we want to help, but in fact do not do what we could we be doing to help them -- not sending in troops and fighting what is in the end their war, but at least stopping their government from dropping barrel bombs on them and gassing them; proving a safe zone. That's the link. Another way to put it might be to say that in our own lives we have to make room for caring FOR each other, and in international relations we have to make room for caring ABOUT each other not as "states" but as fellow human beings.
Senior Industry Fellow Georgetown University
As the former CEO of an asset management firm I am alarmed by the attrition trend of women in my industry. Do you favor public policy actions over company specific CEO and Board leadership actions to best address this challenge?
I think this is exactly how we have to frame the issue, but I would begin by framing it as the attrition trend of PARENTS in any industry. 50% of US fathers say that they have deferred a promotion or changed jobs for family reasons; we just don't notice that the way we notice the attrition of women because we assume that when men leave they leave for other reasons and there are fewer women, certainly in finance, to begin with! That is the work by Robin Ely at Harvard Business School and her colleagues that I rely on in Unfinished Business. Overall we need continually to make the case to CEOs and Boards that this is a massive loss and indeed waste of resources -- all the time and money put into recruiting and training young women and men only to lose a large percentage of them because the workplace is still designed for a person who has a full-time caregiver at home when that is simply no longer the reality for the majority of workers. But I also DO agree that government has to play its part. Government is the "market maker" here; it defines the rules of the game within which businesses can then compete. So insisting on things like paid family leave, PATERNITY as well as maternity leave, and providing lots of incentives for on-site daycare, also a right to request flexible work, all signal that we are in a different era in which we no longer have women at home as an infrastructure of care, so that we now have to recreate that infrastructure by adapting to a world in which both men and women are both breadwinners and caregivers. We're only half way there, which is why I call the book Unfinished Business!
How might we make *caregiving* a norm, and therefore an act that is recognized and embedded in our corporate culture?

I appreciate that you highlighted the challenges for caregivers, in addition to that of parents. As Baby Boomers enter retirement, we need to consider our role in caring for our parents too. How can companies best support individuals as caregivers (kids and parents)?

Thank you Anne-Marie for your work to highlight the challenges for parents, in particular, women in the workforce. From your Atlantic article to this NYT opinion piece - thank you for challenging the status quo.
You are most welcome. I think a great deal about this -- as Ai-Jen Poo points out in her book The Age of Dignity, the baby boom in the US is becoming the elder boom. This is an issue that is facing many of us with our own parents and will face ALL of us as we contemplate who will care for us? Here I like to appeal to basic self-interest, asking people who they want caring for them, and pointing out all the great research that shows that good eldercare, like good childcare, requires education and experience to give people "their best day," a day in which they can be as autonomous as possible but also supported where they need to be. When we start thinking about who is going to care for us, we start thinking that we certainly want a society in which is is possible and indeed encouraged for children to take on that role at least as a supervisor of their parents' care if not a direct provider; that we want everyone to have enough time to fulfill their obligations as parents our children or spouses or sibling but also that we will WANT to be able to spend time with our loved ones as we age and that time becomes more precious. So much of this is just calling out our own hypocrisy on these issues. We TALK about family values; we say that being a mother (or a father) is the most important job; but we simply don't walk the talk. When I point out that I don't want to hire someone who would put their work ahead of a child crisis or an ill spouse or caring for the parent who cared for then because I don't like their values, it's actually hard to explain, in religious or moral or simply character terms, why we expect work to come first. I call out 9 of these kinds of "half-truths" in Unfinished Business -- things we say but don't mean; things that are not in fact true and are holding us back. Changing our minds is the first step toward changing our culture.
Director, User Interface Engineering at Condé Nast
Anne-Marie,

Since the passing of the Family & Medical Leave Act in 1993 has there been any other legislative action with the potential to address the ideas you're concerned with? Do you believe legislation is the most effective path towards change? Or are you looking to start another kind of conversation?

Thank you.
See some of my other answers; I believe we need culture change, which starts with how individuals think and talk; workplace change; AND policy change. It's very important that we not give in to the siren song of self-help, that says that individuals can make it work for themselves if they are just more confident or manage their time better or somehow change their own thinking and behavior. Those things are important, but see @manwhohasitall's Twitter stream to see how we would never presume to tell MEN that they can hold down two full-time jobs at once if they just make some changes. We have to have policy change that goes far beyond FMLA. Paid family leave is the most important; it can be done through payroll taxes that add only pennies to the month bill (as in New Jersey, CA, etc); then maternity AND paternity leave -- that is the heart of equality; mothers do bear children but dads are just as responsible for raising them as they are for creating them; then all sorts of incentives/subsidies for quality affordable childcare and eldercare. That's the last chapter of Unfinished Business. Thanks for asking!
VP, Marketing, Europe Middle East and Africa at Google
Dear Anne Marie, I loved your NYT article. Don't you think the problem is that we- men and women- all work too hard, which requires even more help in care at home? I wish more people praised idleness as Bertrand Russell did so we women (and men) would not be here, needing so much help at home, in the first place. There is something wrong with our work culture. Technology in the long run might address this but what do we do now?
I do indeed! In fact, I gave a commencement address at Tufts in 2014 that I later published as In Praise of Idleness, for so many reasons! To begin with, unless we let our minds idle some of the time we cannot be nearly as creative or thoughtful as we should be. The key is data! We know -- as we have known since Henry Ford, that working longer simply does not mean working better. It's very clear -- so much so that Sweden is now experimenting with six-hour work days. People who work less but work EFFECTIVELY get more done and do better work. It's that simple. And the work they don't get done is so often just busywork in the first place, like answering hours and hours of useless email. Call it out and cite the data -- see Brigid Schulte's wonderful book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time and follow the specific advice in Unfinished Business.
Research fellow at the Belfer Center @ Harvard
Dear Dr. Slaughter,

Many of the solutions you suggest for improving the workplace (e.g. paid family leave, reform of elementary school schedules, etc.) are all issues that can be addressed through government-led initiatives. But how do you propose we change the mindset of those who are in positions to hire and promote? Because as you say, as long as there are people who are willing to put in extra hours and always be around the office, like young people with no caregiving responsibilities or workers with stay-at-home partners, won't these people be favored over women, regardless of legal protections?
I have a long section in Unfinished Business on "how to have the conversation with your boss" to ask for more flexible hours or to work from home some of the time or to get whatever other kinds of flexibility you need. The key is to frame it in terms of "I think I can do a better job for you if... " and to try things out on an experimental basis. And yes, the people who are married to their work may well advance faster; that's their choice and they are certainly entitled to be promoted ahead of those of us who have made different choices if they are in fact doing better work and more work that needs to be done and not just putting in more hours. But life is long; they may well get to the top faster but discover that they missed time with their children or their parents that they cannot get back, or realize that they could have made time to run a marathon or pursue some other passion that they are now too old to do. Still, I do not presume to dictate the choices people make, just to say that there are millions of us out there, women and men, who wish that we had better options, and that when we ARE ready to lean in or go hard (I advise people to think about their careers in terms of interval training), our employers will still be willing to consider us for promotion. The first time I was considered for the job of Director of Policy Planning was in 1996, when I had a two-month old son. I knew I wouldn't get it and I didn't want it. But I was considered again in 2008, when I had two sons and had managed to be with them for over a decade. I certainly wasn't the youngest ever Director, but I was much happier doing it this way.
Part of the problem about talking about the work/life balance issue, is that there is a certain amount of woman-to-woman 'shaming' when it comes to choices. If a woman puts her career "first," she's neglecting her family. If she declines professional opportunities to be at home, she's letting down "the cause." How can we, as and among women, foster acknowledgement that there are multiple definitions of success and encourage future generations to be more accepting of varied paths?
Juliette -- always happy to talk to you in any medium. I just wrote a piece for Fortune's Broadsheet that addresses this question. fortune.com/2015/10/14/sl...tion/.
Do you think flexible working conditions would really solve the problem in an increasingly competitive corporate environment?
Absolutely. I've seen first-hand what happens when you let people take more control over their work and their lives. They are happier, have less stress, and are more productive and creative. The research is all their -- see Unfinished Business and/or Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time. Working flexibly and indeed working less is working better!!
Ms. Slaughter, we've recently seen the issue of gender equality in the workplace become more of a focus of popular dialogue (e.g. LeanIn's tremendous success), yet it remains women who are passionate about it. Like you say in your article, this is not a "women's problem," but a wider one--how can we get more men to mobilize around this issue?
The answer I give most frequently is for as many women as possible to read Unfinished Business and then give it to the men in their lives. You can also read my husband's piece in The Atlantic called "Why I Put My Wife's Career First" and send it to your spouses/brothers/sons/fathers. It is vital that WOMEN see this as a men's issue first and then raise it with them. We are just as socialized as men are to think that caregiving is really our responsibility. A growing number of millennial men now want very different lives than their fathers had; they want to be equal parents and are beginning to realize that in all likelihood they may well have to be lead parents at least some of the time. But if WE can't change our expectations about who is REALLY in charge of caregiving (see my chapter called Let It Go about our own sexism in this regard), we cannot expect them to. That means it is still large audiences of women who come to talks about work and family; men often just feel intimidated (it used to be that way for women for talks about careers in general and still today far fewer women show up for talks about finance and tech, professions that are still seen as very male). Last, we have to make it clear that we still find a man who wants to be a full co-parent and is prepared to be a lead parent if your career takes off more than his does or he just has more flexible work to be attractive/sexy/masculine etc. If we can't do that, they will naturally respond to our revealed preferences rather than our expressed ones.
Thanks so much for answering our questions. I've admired your work for a long time.

I think my biggest question has to do with class, rather than culture per se. The question of "having it all" necessarily implies a level of freedom of choice, not only reproductive freedom (though that's a big part of it) but also intellectual or economic freedom. What are some ways of extending the work/life balance question to women who don't have as many choices available to them, either for economic reasons or reasons of constrained reproductive choice?
Katherine, I agree with you -- this is one of the places where my eyes were opened over the past three years. I now argue strongly that we should simply abolish the "having it all" frame -- I never knew before the Atlantic article that it came from Helen Gurley Brown but I have seen first hand how it skews the discussion and makes all feminists sound selfish. More importantly, as I write in Unfinished Business, "balance is a luxury, equality is a necessity." One of the biggest reasons that I have chosen to focus on discrimination against caregiving and caregivers is that it is a lens that allows us to see the "unlovely symmetry" of too few women at the top and far too many at the bottom. That mass of over 40 million American women either in poverty or on the brink are there because we insist on and support their work but not their care for their family members. The poorest members of our society are single mothers not due to moral turpitude but to the complete impossibility of creating a better life for your family in a system where you can lose your job if you stay home to care for a sick child.That same devaluing of care is why women who work part-time or choose to stay at home to care for families are knocked off leadership track, but the consequences are so much greater for women at the bottom. I write about the ways in which at least in the 1960s and 1970s ALL women, rich and poor, had had the experience of being viewed primarily as sex objects, but over the decades the experience of rich and poor women has diverged more than it has in common, except for discrimination against care. This lens thus helps us fight for the policies -- at the national and the workplace level -- that will help poor women the most to address the issues that richer women can often buy their way out of .
Head, Future of Finance at CFA Institute
Thanks for your thought provoking articles. A couple of questions for you:

1. Some industries based on billable hours (lawyers, accountants) have done better retaining and promoting women because they can directly compute their bottom line value. However, this structure doesn't always promote efficiency. Is there something to learn here for policy?

2. A quote from a parent in an exec role: "You can't outsource worry." Is this a limiting factor for caregiving policy success? Related to others' questions, are we seeking to optimize productivity, competitiveness, or happiness?
I actually think the billable hour model is dying fast, as it should. I have heard from women in sales that they have much more flexibility because it's all about whether they hit their numbers, and as long as they hit the numbers they can have all the flexibility they want. But in law/accounting there is no way around the fact that more hours = more money, which privileges quantity over quality of work, as clients have realized, and inevitably penalizes anyone who has things other than work in his/her life. Big Law is in serious trouble, largely because it is too expensive and because the most talented and creative people just don't want to live that way. On your second question, I'm sorry to keep saying "read the book," but this is a huge issue that I have thought a lot about. This is exactly why women have to let men REALLY take charge, not just do the things that we put on the list. And it's also why I went home after two years at State. No matter what I did, I was worrying about my son; it was simply better for me to be at home and be a full-time parent together with my husband. But you know, they are not teenagers forever!
Professor of Psychology, University of Massachusetts Amherst
I have explored these issues in an NIH longitudinal study of 370, low-income families having their first baby and returning to work soon after the birth. Given the lack of paid leave in the U.S. many of the parents in our study return to work 2-3 weeks after birth, creating risk for parent mental health and child development. Why do we fail to take a life course perspective highlighting that at times in our work lives we can commit more than at other times. Current career paths in the U.S. peak at the same time as fertility. How can we develop a longer view of these life-long challenges?
I wish I had time but I address that question at length in the book! It is also the focus of New America's early education program; I hope you know about that and they know about you!
I am curious about your reaction to your husband's piece in the Atlantic and the characterization of your relationship to your children. Do you consider your husband the "lead parent," and does that work for you? Do either you or your husband have regrets (on either missed career opportunities or missed bedtimes)? And how has it affected your relationship -- does either resent the other for what they're missing?

And what about families in which both partners want to pursue high-powered careers. Is it possible to have the lead parent shift depending on the day or year?
He is definitely the lead parent; it was hard for me to come to that realization after I came back from DC, but I am simply traveling much more than he does; to earn the income I do (which pays for the whole family and is bigger than his salary) I have to be away much more. I write about the difficulties I had getting to this place, and laugh that we engage in "competitive parenting" where suddenly he'll try to become the breakfast cook (my niche) or I'll get upset when we are traveling together that the boys text him more than they text me. But overall it's in good fun; I think he's a great role model for our sons, who will know how to support a strong and powerful woman and still be strong and capable men themselves. On the question of can both do it -- sure, but not at the same time(at least for most of us mortals) and as Andy says, promotions don't typically happen exactly when you are ready to switch. There is a lot of path-dependence; big jobs lead to bigger jobs. On the other hand, some couples put his career first until the early 50s when the kids are grown and THEN put hers first (the Clinton model); we can do that if we can change our workplaces and cultures.
A foreign policy question if I may Anne-Marie! You've spoken about billiard-balls and Lego blocks as two metaphors of international relations coexisting in the digital age: the old politics of state power and the new dynamics of networks and integration. Will they continue to coexist if we enter another period of major power confrontation (like the late 19th century or the mid 20th) or will the billiard balls knock the lego blocks out of the way?
Ben -- thanks so much for writing. Quite honestly, that is the subject of my next book -- I'm giving a set of lectures at Yale on "The Strategy of Connection" in mid-November. I don't really think you can knock the lego blocks out unless we have a period of major and sustained confrontation, but even now, with real trouble b/w the U.S. and Russia, we've still got far more contacts with the Russian people than we did during the Cold War. More to the point, Obama's biggest foreign policy legacy, notwithstanding a return to great power confrontation in various places, will be to open U.S. relations with Myanmar, Cuba, and Iran, thereby creating a new landscape of potential U.S. engagement with those countries' entire regions. So I am betting on both!