TEDGlobal 2013

Anne-Marie Slaughter: Can we all "have it all"?

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Public policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter made waves with her 2012 article, "Why women still can't have it all." But really, is this only a question for women? Here Slaughter expands her ideas and explains why shifts in work culture, public policy and social mores can lead to more equality -- for men, women, all of us.

- Public policy thinker
Anne-Marie Slaughter has exploded the conversation around women’s work-life balance. Full bio

So my moment of truth
00:12
did not come all at once.
00:14
In 2010, I had the chance to be considered
00:17
for promotion from my job
00:21
as director of policy planning
00:23
at the U.S. State Department.
00:25
This was my moment to lean in,
00:28
to push myself forward
00:32
for what are really only a handful
00:35
of the very top foreign policy jobs,
00:37
and I had just finished a big, 18-month project
00:40
for Secretary Clinton, successfully,
00:43
and I knew I could handle a bigger job.
00:46
The woman I thought I was
00:50
would have said yes.
00:54
But I had been commuting for two years
00:56
between Washington and Princeton, New Jersey,
00:58
where my husband and my two teenage sons lived,
01:01
and it was not going well.
01:05
I tried on the idea of eking out another two years
01:09
in Washington, or maybe uprooting my sons
01:12
from their school and my husband from his work
01:15
and asking them to join me.
01:17
But deep down, I knew
01:20
that the right decision was to go home,
01:23
even if I didn't fully recognize the woman
01:26
who was making that choice.
01:29
That was a decision based on love
01:33
and responsibility.
01:37
I couldn't keep watching my oldest son
01:39
make bad choices
01:42
without being able to be there for him
01:43
when and if he needed me.
01:46
But the real change came more gradually.
01:50
Over the next year,
01:53
while my family was righting itself,
01:55
I started to realize
01:58
that even if I could go back into government,
01:59
I didn't want to.
02:02
I didn't want to miss the last five years
02:04
that my sons were at home.
02:08
I finally allowed myself to accept
02:11
what was really most important to me,
02:15
not what I was conditioned to want
02:18
or maybe what I conditioned myself to want,
02:21
and that decision led to a reassessment
02:26
of the feminist narrative that I grew up with
02:31
and have always championed.
02:34
I am still completely committed
02:38
to the cause of male-female equality,
02:41
but let's think about what that equality really means,
02:47
and how best to achieve it.
02:52
I always accepted the idea
02:55
that the most respected and powerful people
02:58
in our society are men at the top of their careers,
03:01
so that the measure of male-female equality
03:05
ought to be how many women are in those positions:
03:09
prime ministers, presidents, CEOs,
03:13
directors, managers, Nobel laureates, leaders.
03:16
I still think we should do everything we possibly can
03:21
to achieve that goal.
03:26
But that's only half of real equality,
03:28
and I now think we're never going to get there
03:33
unless we recognize the other half.
03:36
I suggest that real equality,
03:42
full equality,
03:46
does not just mean valuing women
03:48
on male terms.
03:51
It means creating a much wider range
03:54
of equally respected choices
03:58
for women and for men.
04:02
And to get there, we have to change our workplaces,
04:05
our policies and our culture.
04:09
In the workplace,
04:12
real equality means valuing family
04:14
just as much as work,
04:17
and understanding that the two reinforce each other.
04:19
As a leader and as a manager,
04:23
I have always acted on the mantra,
04:25
if family comes first,
04:28
work does not come second --
04:30
life comes together.
04:33
If you work for me, and you have a family issue,
04:36
I expect you to attend to it,
04:40
and I am confident,
04:42
and my confidence has always been borne out,
04:44
that the work will get done, and done better.
04:47
Workers who have a reason to get home
04:50
to care for their children or their family members
04:53
are more focused, more efficient,
04:56
more results-focused.
04:59
And breadwinners who are also caregivers
05:01
have a much wider range
05:04
of experiences and contacts.
05:07
Think about a lawyer who spends part of his time
05:09
at school events for his kids
05:12
talking to other parents.
05:15
He's much more likely to bring in
05:17
new clients for his firm
05:19
than a lawyer who never leaves his office.
05:21
And caregiving itself
05:24
develops patience --
05:26
a lot of patience --
05:30
and empathy, creativity, resilience, adaptability.
05:32
Those are all attributes that are ever more important
05:38
in a high-speed, horizontal,
05:42
networked global economy.
05:44
The best companies actually know this.
05:48
The companies that win awards
05:51
for workplace flexibility in the United States
05:53
include some of our most successful corporations,
05:56
and a 2008 national study
05:59
on the changing workforce
06:02
showed that employees
06:04
in flexible and effective workplaces
06:05
are more engaged with their work,
06:09
they're more satisfied and more loyal,
06:11
they have lower levels of stress
06:13
and higher levels of mental health.
06:15
And a 2012 study of employers
06:17
showed that deep, flexible practices
06:21
actually lowered operating costs
06:24
and increased adaptability
06:26
in a global service economy.
06:29
So you may think
06:32
that the privileging of work over family
06:35
is only an American problem.
06:39
Sadly, though, the obsession with work
06:43
is no longer a uniquely American disease.
06:47
Twenty years ago,
06:50
when my family first started going to Italy,
06:52
we used to luxuriate in the culture of siesta.
06:54
Siesta is not just about avoiding the heat of the day.
06:57
It's actually just as much
07:00
about embracing the warmth of a family lunch.
07:02
Now, when we go, fewer and fewer businesses
07:05
close for siesta,
07:08
reflecting the advance of global corporations
07:10
and 24-hour competition.
07:14
So making a place for those we love
07:16
is actually a global imperative.
07:19
In policy terms,
07:23
real equality means recognizing
07:26
that the work that women have traditionally done
07:29
is just as important
07:32
as the work that men have traditionally done,
07:34
no matter who does it.
07:37
Think about it: Breadwinning and caregiving
07:40
are equally necessary for human survival.
07:43
At least if we get beyond a barter economy,
07:47
somebody has to earn an income
07:50
and someone else has to convert that income
07:53
to care and sustenance for loved ones.
07:56
Now most of you, when you hear me
07:59
talk about breadwinning and caregiving,
08:02
instinctively translate those categories
08:04
into men's work and women's work.
08:08
And we don't typically challenge
08:11
why men's work is advantaged.
08:14
But consider a same-sex couple
08:18
like my friends Sarah and Emily.
08:21
They're psychiatrists.
08:23
They got married five years ago,
08:25
and now they have two-year-old twins.
08:26
They love being mothers,
08:30
but they also love their work,
08:32
and they're really good at what they do.
08:33
So how are they going to divide up
08:36
breadwinning and caregiving responsibilities?
08:38
Should one of them stop working
08:40
or reduce hours to be home?
08:42
Or should they both change their practices
08:45
so they can have much more flexible schedules?
08:48
And what criteria should they use
08:51
to make that decision?
08:53
Is it who makes the most money
08:54
or who is most committed to her career?
08:56
Or who has the most flexible boss?
09:00
The same-sex perspective helps us see
09:04
that juggling work and family
09:08
are not women's problems,
09:10
they're family problems.
09:12
And Sarah and Emily are the lucky ones,
09:15
because they have a choice
09:18
about how much they want to work.
09:20
Millions of men and women
09:22
have to be both breadwinners and caregivers
09:25
just to earn the income they need,
09:28
and many of those workers are scrambling.
09:32
They're patching together care arrangements
09:34
that are inadequate
09:37
and often actually unsafe.
09:38
If breadwinning and caregiving are really equal,
09:41
then why shouldn't a government
09:46
invest as much in an infrastructure of care
09:47
as the foundation of a healthy society
09:51
as it invests in physical infrastructure
09:55
as the backbone of a successful economy?
09:58
The governments that get it --
10:02
no surprises here --
10:04
the governments that get it,
10:06
Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands,
10:08
provide universal child care,
10:12
support for caregivers at home,
10:15
school and early childhood education,
10:18
protections for pregnant women,
10:21
and care for the elderly and the disabled.
10:23
Those governments invest in that infrastructure
10:27
the same way they invest in roads and bridges
10:31
and tunnels and trains.
10:34
Those societies also show you
10:37
that breadwinning and caregiving
10:40
reinforce each other.
10:42
They routinely rank among the top 15 countries
10:45
of the most globally competitive economies,
10:50
but at the same time,
10:54
they rank very high on the OECD Better Life Index.
10:55
In fact, they rank higher than other governments,
11:00
like my own, the U.S., or Switzerland,
11:04
that have higher average levels of income
11:06
but lower rankings on work-life balance.
11:09
So changing our workplaces
11:15
and building infrastructures of care
11:18
would make a big difference,
11:21
but we're not going to get equally valued choices
11:22
unless we change our culture,
11:27
and the kind of cultural change required
11:29
means re-socializing men.
11:33
(Applause)
11:35
Increasingly in developed countries,
11:39
women are socialized to believe that our place
11:41
is no longer only in the home,
11:44
but men are actually still where they always were.
11:47
Men are still socialized to believe
11:52
that they have to be breadwinners,
11:56
that to derive their self-worth
11:58
from how high they can climb over other men
12:01
on a career ladder.
12:04
The feminist revolution still has a long way to go.
12:06
It's certainly not complete.
12:09
But 60 years after
12:11
"The Feminine
Mystique" was published,
12:12
many women actually have
12:15
more choices than men do.
12:17
We can decide to be a breadwinner,
12:20
a caregiver, or any combination of the two.
12:23
When a man, on the other hand,
12:27
decides to be a caregiver,
12:29
he puts his manhood on the line.
12:32
His friends may praise his decision,
12:36
but underneath, they're scratching their heads.
12:39
Isn't the measure of a man
12:43
his willingness to compete with other men
12:46
for power and prestige?
12:49
And as many women hold that view as men do.
12:51
We know that lots of women
12:55
still judge the attractiveness of a man
12:58
based in large part on how successful he is
13:01
in his career.
13:04
A woman can drop out of the work force
13:06
and still be an attractive partner.
13:08
For a man, that's a risky proposition.
13:10
So as parents and partners,
13:15
we should be socializing our sons
13:17
and our husbands
13:20
to be whatever they want to be,
13:23
either caregivers or breadwinners.
13:26
We should be socializing them to make caregiving
13:30
cool for guys.
13:33
(Applause)
13:35
I can almost hear lots of you thinking, "No way."
13:39
But in fact, the change is
actually already happening.
13:45
At least in the United States,
13:50
lots of men take pride in cooking,
13:52
and frankly obsess over stoves.
13:54
They are in the birthing rooms.
13:57
They take paternity leave when they can.
14:00
They can walk a baby or soothe a toddler
14:03
just as well as their wives can,
14:05
and they are increasingly
14:08
doing much more of the housework.
14:10
Indeed, there are male college students now
14:12
who are starting to say,
14:14
"I want to be a stay-at-home dad."
14:16
That was completely unthinkable
14:18
50 or even 30 years ago.
14:20
And in Norway, where men have
14:23
an automatic three month's paternity leave,
14:26
but they lose it if they decide not to take it,
14:28
a high government official told me
14:32
that companies are starting to look
14:34
at prospective male employees
14:36
and raise an eyebrow if they didn't in fact
14:38
take their leave when they had kids.
14:42
That means that it's starting to seem
14:44
like a character defect
14:47
not to want to be a fully engaged father.
14:49
So I was raised
14:57
to believe that championing women's rights
15:02
meant doing everything we could
15:06
to get women to the top.
15:08
And I still hope that I live long enough
15:10
to see men and women equally represented
15:13
at all levels of the work force.
15:16
But I've come to believe that we have to value family
15:19
every bit as much as we value work,
15:23
and that we should entertain the idea
15:26
that doing right by those we love
15:28
will make all of us better at everything we do.
15:32
Thirty years ago, Carol Gilligan,
15:36
a wonderful psychologist, studied adolescent girls
15:38
and identified an ethic of care,
15:41
an element of human nature every bit as important
15:44
as the ethic of justice.
15:47
It turns out that "you don't care"
15:49
is just as much a part of who we are
15:52
as "that's not fair."
15:55
Bill Gates agrees.
15:57
He argues that the two great forces of human nature
15:59
are self-interest and caring for others.
16:02
Let's bring them both together.
16:07
Let's make the feminist revolution
16:09
a humanist revolution.
16:12
As whole human beings,
16:15
we will be better caregivers and breadwinners.
16:16
You may think that can't happen,
16:20
but I grew up in a society
16:22
where my mother put out small vases
16:24
of cigarettes for dinner parties,
16:26
where blacks and whites used separate bathrooms,
16:29
and where everybody claimed to be heterosexual.
16:33
Today, not so much.
16:40
The revolution for human equality
16:44
can happen.
16:48
It is happening.
16:50
It will happen.
16:52
How far and how fast is up to us.
16:54
Thank you.
16:59
(Applause)
17:01

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About the Speaker:

Anne-Marie Slaughter - Public policy thinker
Anne-Marie Slaughter has exploded the conversation around women’s work-life balance.

Why you should listen

Anne-Marie Slaughter has served as the Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and was the first female Director of Policy Planning for the US Department of State. In late 2013 she left Princeton to assume the presidency of the New America Foundation. With her husband, Slaughter has also raised two sons. And she is on the record saying that integrating her remarkably high-powered career and motherhood was doable when she had the flexibility to control her own schedule, but impossible once she was no longer her own boss.

In a 2012 article for the Atlantic that became the magazine’s most-read ever, Slaughter dismantles the recently-popularized notion that women who fail to “have it all” lack the ambition to do so. Instead, she argues that the way most top jobs are structured, including the expectations of workers regardless of gender, uphold slavish devotion to work above family life or other passions. Creating a more flexible work environment would benefit not just individual women and men, but society as a whole. It is unacceptable, she argues, that a desire to spend time with one’s family should be cause for shame.