When Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning at the State Department, penned an article for The Atlantic saying that women can’t juggle high-flying careers and parenthood, it predictably spawned thousands of angry responses.
When Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning at the State Department, penned an article for The Atlantic saying that women can’t juggle high-flying careers and parenthood, it predictably spawned thousands of angry responses. She argued that career women of her generation, those who smashed glass ceilings in the professions, have inadvertently reinforced the idea that women can ‘have it all’, without acknowledging the huge and potentially devastating sacrifices successful career women have had to make in their family lives.
A common response was to point out that Slaughter’s argument only applied to a very small demographic, although she openly admits that she is writing for ‘highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place’. Spear’s features a number of these women in this issue: Elena Baturina, Kally Ellis. We also have those who struggled to get their lives in balance: Eva Rausing, Elizabeth Taylor.
It’s true that wealthy women have the financial freedom to give up work or cut back on hours, which other women do not. They may be able to ask for flexi-hours or to work remotely — not an option if you work in a factory. A working mother on the breadline may think that Slaughter sounds like a spoilt child.
If you care about women’s rights, however, you cannot only focus on the plight of society’s most disadvantaged women: the difficulties faced by high-powered professionals matter, too. If we want to see women in positions of leadership, shaping public policy, the legal system and the business and financial worlds, and providing powerful role models for the next generation then we should be interested in the sacrifices they have had to make to get there.
Money buys time, the cliché goes, but there are few high-paying, high-flying jobs that allow you to work nine-to-five. On top of the gruelling hours senior professionals are expected to put in, when you’re running huge teams, projects and budgets, it’s not easy to insist on going home early because the youngest has chicken pox.
Career women often face the additional stress of being told they are bad mothers. It’s a judgement that we, at Spear’s, wholeheartedly resist. There is no one perfect way to bring up a child, and creating a loving, supportive home environment matters infinitely more than always making it home for bath time.
But if you accept that working mothers are not bad mothers, then it’s a little puzzling that Slaughter’s argument should be considered a feminist or even a women’s issue at all. Men with high-powered careers make exactly the same sacrifices — surely there comes a point in most senior executives’ lives when they wonder whether the late nights and far-flung business trips were worth all the missed parents’ evenings and sports days, or just the simple pleasure of watching your children grow up.
Society is more forgiving of men, less likely to expect them to be both a CEO of a FTSE 100 company and a perfect father, but this is changing — the modern dad is a hands-on dad. Perhaps it’s time to have more male voices arguing that the way the working world is currently structured, no one can have it all.