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Anne-Marie Slaughter to work-life balance critics: Get over it

Oct. 8, 2012 at 8:23 AM ET

Larry Busacca / Getty Images file /
Anne-Marie Slaughter has some advice for critics of her controversial magazine piece, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All": Get over it.

When Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote her now infamous The Atlantic article titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” she wasn’t naive about how the piece might stir women up.

She wanted to question the status quo, and possibly help inspire change.

But for everyone out there who may have interpreted her article as a narrative meant to inspire women to give up their careers for motherhood, she says those people are wrong.

And for those who thought she damaged the women’s movement’s progress in leveling the workplace playing field, she says, get over it.

It’s time to move beyond the tired Mommy Wars and the notion that women should be afraid to point out the flaws in the U.S. workplace for fear of rocking the boat. It’s time to “make work choices in a different way” and not condemn women, or men, who want flexibility at work, said Slaughter during Families and Work Institute’s Immersion Learning Experience session held last month at the New York headquarters of JPMorgan Chase.

“I would never choose family over my work. I would make them work together,” she said.

The institute honored Slaughter on Sept. 19 with the Work Life Legacy Award, in part because of the national conversation her magazine story ignited.

She is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University who left her job last year as director of policy planning in the State Department in part to spend more time with her family.

The idea to write The Atlantic piece sprang from her realization of how far the workplace still had to go when it came to accommodating employees who want to have a good family life.

“What changed was actually my own calculation about what was needed,” she explained. “My kids needed me, but more importantly (was the question of) what I wanted.”

She realized her sons would be home for only a few more years but she knew she didn’t want to stop working. The ultimate goal, she explained, was to “work in a way that will allow me to have that time with them.”

“Something changed with me,” she noted. When women, especially younger women and her students, used to ask her about how to have it all when family responsibilities beckoned, “I had always said, ‘well you know, you just make it work.'’”

She came to realize, she said, what so many other working parents had already figured out. Sometimes You have to rethink what you’re doing in terms of your career.

Women, and even men, who say they’re leaving a job because of family are often viewed with scorn, she said. She admitted that she too was guilty of this in the past.

“Leaving to spend time with family is a euphemism for getting fired,” she continued, indicating this is especially true for men.

Slaughter wondered why we don’t hold up commitment to family the way we hold up commitment to fellow soldiers in the military. “We glorify ‘Band of Brothers’ but if you say, ‘I can’t stay in this job because of my commitment to those I love’ it’s viewed differently. In so many ways caring for family is not OK.”

“I value people who value those they are closest to,” she said.

So just in case you were wondering, Slaughter stressed, “I believe you can do it all.”

However, she’s come to the conclusion that it’s not “just a matter of individual commitment” when it comes to making it all work.

If we don’t change “the work environment” in the United States, or the arc of what makes a “successful-career environment,” she stressed, “some women will make it, but for every one else we actually need change.”

Eve Tahmincioglu, director of communications for the Families and Work Institute, blogs about family and work issues at  familiesandwork.org/blog.

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