Women, Work and Having it All: Article Reignites Old Debate

An article on balancing career and motherhood has drawn nearly a million views online and sparked a bigger debate about the role of women in the work force. Judy Woodruff discusses the subject with Anne-Marie Slaughter, Monica Olivera of MommyMaestra and Naomi Decter, vice president of the public relations firm, Beckerman.

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    It's an old debate that has caught fire anew: How do women balance work and family?

    A new article in The Atlantic magazine, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" by Anne-Marie Slaughter, has gone viral, with nearly a million views online in less than a week. It sparked a bigger conversation about the role of women in the work force, the competing demands on employees and generational differences over the ideals of feminism.

    Slaughter is a Princeton professor who rose to the highest ranks of the State Department before resigning to live closer to her children. She joins us now from New York. We're also joined by Monica Olivera. She's a young mother who is the founder of Latin Baby and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, websites that are geared toward Latino families. And Naomi Decter, she's vice president of the public relations firm Beckerman. She is a mother of three who has also written articles and editorials for commentary for The Washington Times and The Wall Street Journal.

    And we thank you, all three, for being with us.

    Anne-Marie Slaughter, to you first. What do you mean by having it all?

  • ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, Princeton University:

    I mean that women should be able to have the same choices as men.

    I think I regret that that's the way the issue has always been formulated when I was coming of age. I think, today, it sounds very entitled because there are so many Americans who have very, very little. But really what it means is that women should be able to have the same choices about being able to have a family and being able to have a career that men do.


    And you write that for the longest time you believed that that was the case, but now you don't. Why not?


    Well, no, I still do believe that women can have it all. But I now understand that my ability to have it all, which I have always been able to have, was a function of how flexible my job is as a tenured professor. I have had a lot of flexibility about when I work. I work incredibly hard. I certainly put in the same kinds of hours that anybody else does at a very high level. But I have flexibility.

    And the minute I got myself into a job that is the kind of job that the vast, vast majority of working women have, where I was on somebody else's schedule and really had a boss, a boss I adore, Hillary Clinton, but I realized I couldn't make it work with my family.

    And that's when I really decided that it's time to have another round of conversation and make another round of changes that will allow both women, working mothers and fully engaged fathers to have better choices.


    And just quickly, what are one or two of those changes that you think must be made?


    Well, the simplest changes are around allowing more flexibility in the workplace, allowing women to be able to, say, work one day from home, and again working fathers as well. I mean, given technology, that's really quite possible.

    Changes that, for instance, value the results out rather than hours in, and changes that say, you know, working until midnight, being in the office — this isn't about working, but the culture of face time in the office and the culture of what I call time macho, you know, the person who is there until midnight in the office must be the person who is working the hardest, those are culture changes that we can make if we just think about them differently.


    Naomi Decter, you told us that one of your reactions when you read Anne-Marie Slaughter's article was, here we go again. What did you mean by that?

  • NAOMI DECTER, Beckerman:

    Well, what I mean is we have been having this exact same conversation for the past 40 years, since the feminist movement first gathered strength.

    And, frankly, I think it's time to stop the whining and accept the world for what it is. Of course we can't have it all. No one can have it all. Men can't have it all either. And I think the changes Anne-Marie is talking about are lovely ideas.

    I'm fortunate enough myself to be able to work from my home, although all my children are all grown. And I was fortunate enough to be able to do that when they were young as well. But the sad fact is, that is not going to work for most of the world. And no one is ever going to run the U.S. State Department in their P.J.s from the kitchen table.

    So I think we — this is a problem and always has been a problem of highly privileged, highly educated women. And I think the fact is, we're extremely lucky and we may not have it all, but we have much, much more than most of the women and men in this country or certainly in the world. And I think. . .


    Anne-Marie Slaughter — I was just going to ask Anne-Marie Slaughter to comment.


    Well, in the first place, we have had this debate often. And in the 40 years or 30 years of my lifetime, we have made unbelievable strides for women.

    When I was growing up, I didn't know a single woman doctor and only one woman lawyer. So, I don't see this as round and round the same merry-go-round with no progress forward. I see this as a time of astonishing change for men and for women. And I think that change has been brought about by having this debate and then turning conversation into action.

    Second, I disagree. You know, when I was running an office of 40 women and men at the State Department, I let the mothers who were in my group work from home one day a week. Indeed, I often had to go home to get a lot of writing done. I was more productive there than in the office.

    And my office was astonishingly productive. I have run a staff of 100 people and managed on the principle that family comes first, and really done very well.

    And third, yes, absolutely. Look, I'm enormously privileged. And I make clear that I'm writing largely for my demographic. But I'm not saying everybody gets to have everything they want. I'm saying that women should be able to have the same choices men have. If we make the workplace better accommodating those women, those women will be in a position to compete for the top jobs.

    And if in fact we then have a leadership of men and women, I think we can make society better for all working parents at every level.


    Monica Olivera, as you listen to this discussion back and forth, you have clearly read the article, what are you hearing? What are you thinking?

  • MONICA OLIVERA, MommyMaestra.com:

    Well, I think it's interesting because I know that they are both talking about a certain demographic.

    But, quite honestly, I think that her article really resonates with women across the United States, because I think that no matter what kind of career or job you are in — and there is a difference — I think a lot of women want to do well at it and in turn be able to use that to help support their families, if that's one of the reasons why they're working.

    Or even if they're not working to support their family, but just simply to fulfill a dream that they have or to help contribute to the family financial situation, I think it definitely resonates across the board.

    And I agree that I don't think that everybody or that men could have it all, as the title almost implies that men can. I think that it's just simply human nature that eventually at some point we will wind up having issues where, you know, your family and your job are going to both compete at the same time. It's just going to happen. And you're going to have to make choices.


    Naomi Decter, when you said a minute ago, stop the whining, of course, we can't have it all, neither can men, what's the message? I mean, should we — should women even — and men even be having this conversation?


    I think it's a pointless and circular conversation. I think, you know, we're saying, if women ruled the world, then women would be able to rule the world. But until women rule the world, they won't be able to rule the world.

    I mean, I think we all have choices that we have to make in life, men and women. And those choices may be different between men and women because of their nature and because women actually have the children and give birth to them.

    But men have to make choices, too. Sometimes, we will make choices that we regret. Some choices we make, we will end up saying, well, it didn't work for me, as Anne-Marie did.

    And I think we need to stop thinking that we're going to engineer some kind of a world where all of our problems are taken care of for us. You make a choice and you hope it's for the best for your family. Sometimes, it will be. Sometimes, it won't be. And then you adjust. And men have to do exactly the same thing.


    Monica Olivera, in just a few seconds, because I want to ask both you and Anne-Marie, what's your outlook here? Do you come away from this hopeful or not?


    I definitely do come away from it hopeful, because I think that a lot of the women who have come before us have made it possible now for us to make choices, whereas, before, there wasn't a choice. So. . .


    And, Anne-Marie Slaughter, last word. How do you come away?


    I come away enormously hopeful.

    You know, when Sheryl Sandberg spoke at Barnard, and she said the problem is we have an ambition gap and women don't want to be leaders, the women I have heard from in the hundreds — and obviously these conversations are happening everywhere — say, we do want to be at the top of our professions. We want to do our jobs the very best we can. But we don't have options. We can't actually take care of our children and make it work. Here are the changes that we could adopt that would help us make it work.

    And I'm very positive that we can turn this conversation into action that will make those changes that won't make everybody have everything they want, but will give women the ability to pursue their professions, spend time with their families, same for working men, and make it to the top, so that we have a much more equal distribution of men and women in all positions across society.


    We hear you. It is a conversation that continues.

    Anne-Marie Slaughter, Naomi Decter, and Monica Olivera, we thank you, all three.


    Thank you.




    Thank you.