Thoughts on “Why women still can’t have it all”

NPR interviews Anne-Marie Slaughter

Is the family-career juggling act impossible?  Even though we may not all be as ambitious as Princeton professor and former director of policy and planning for the U.S. State Department, Anne-Marie Slaughter, I think every woman, with or without children, can empathize with her.  In the linked interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Slaughter talks about her cover article in the current issue of the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.  She recently left her dream job at the State to go back to “just” being a professor at Princeton and spend more time with her teenage sons.

The article was very enlightening (also, steered me away from a job in Washington) and she brought up several key points that affect the current generation of women contemplating career and family, in any field.

– At times, other successful women that are working hard to be role models, end up serving up a guilt trip to current and younger generations. As Slaughter stated, “making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).” I think the idea is to not compare your self to other women, but to try to learn from their experiences.

– Having control over your own schedule is key for working mamas.  For example, being able to work from home during those times when the kids are sick. This is one way a career in academia can align with family needs; you can work on that grant after the kiddos have gone to bed. I have to agree with this one.  As a medical writer, I can often work from home and have the flexibility to take care of things as they come up.

– Timing.  Career-wise, there does not seem to be a perfect time to start a family; everyone needs to decide what works for them (or just go for it).  Slaughter waited until she got tenure to think about kids. She started trying at age 35. In typical career paths, one is usually set-up to take that awesome, power position at age 50, and Anne Marie found herself still in a household with kids.  On the other hand, starting a family at a young age tends to slow down early career advancement.

This was a great article, but to be honest, I was hoping for a bit more optimism.  As in, I agree, women (and men for that matter) still can’t have it all…but we can try, right?  Or maybe we just need to really think about whathaving it all’ means for each of us?

On paper, juggling a perfect work-family life balance calculates out. Set aside at least 8 hours a day to work, 8 hours a day to spend with the kids before and after school and get 8 hours of sleep every night. There’s my 24-hour day, right?  But wait, what about preparing well-balanced meals and walking the dogs? Or commuting? Training for that half marathon, quiet time with my spouse, or cuddling up with a good book?  And what happens when I work late?  The easy solution: another me…To get a realistic idea of how real women manage a science career and family, please check back for future blog posts that will highlight mamas in science at different stages of their career.

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