Catching up with Anne-Marie Slaughter on work-life balance

AP News
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Posted: Sep 25, 2015 8:24 AM
Catching up with Anne-Marie Slaughter on work-life balance

NEW YORK (AP) — Anne-Marie Slaughter is back on the train from her home in Princeton, New Jersey, to Washington, D.C., but only a couple of days a week and in a new capacity: private-sector big thinker on foreign politics and family policy in the digital age.

It has been more than three years since Slaughter wrote a massively popular essay in The Atlantic on why she left her high-level job in Hillary Rodham Clinton's State Department to head home to her husband and two boys, the eldest — at 14 — getting into trouble at the time but now a straightened-out, newly minted freshman at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago.

Other things have also changed.

In 2009, Clinton appointed her director of policy planning, the first woman to hold the job. She quit in 2012 and returned to teaching at Princeton. Now emeritus at the school, Slaughter is president and CEO of New America, a Washington-based nonprofit that's part think tank, technology laboratory, public forum and media platform. It allows her to spend plenty of time at home.

"Part of the reason I wanted to do it is that I can do both foreign policy and breadwinning and caregiving issues," she said in a recent interview. "It's like being an entrepreneur. It's a great organization but we're growing it. It has certainly broadened my portfolio."

Slaughter is out this month with a book, "Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family," published by Random House as the long-ago announced follow-up to her Internet-viral Atlantic declaration that offered her take on why women still can't have it all: successful career climbs and meaningful home lives at the same time.

She's tweaked her women-at-the-top focus but remains steadfast in taking the onus off women to do it all. They need big workplace reforms and major cultural and social shifts that Slaughter calls "an infrastructure of care." Such reforms, she said, are still piecemeal, but "we're trying."

Paid family leave is on the agenda in Congress, Slaughter noted. And she offers several examples of how companies have stepped in to place more value on the "care economy" and its value in productivity on the job.

"There's also a bipartisan policy caucus on family issues in the Senate," Slaughter added. "So I would say we've seen lots of signs that this is back on the national agenda, but we have not seen the kind of big change that we need."

Sometimes, Slaughter said, reforms can mean just a word or two.

"If we just talked about men as working fathers, so every time you saw a CEO you said, 'He's a working father,' that would make a big difference," she explained. "The reason it seems so preposterous is because we're locked into a way of thinking and talking that makes it about women. We can change that."

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Associated Press: How's work? How's the family?

Slaughter: I just took my oldest son to college. As we were driving, my husband texted and said he had been asked to be on 'Good Morning America' because of his piece in The Atlantic about being a lead parent. And my son said, 'Mom, it's OK for YOU to be out there but Dad can't be. He's got to be home with Alexander.'

He's our 16-year-old who's still a junior in high school. Junior year's a big year. We're doing fine but our efforts to publicize these issues make it harder for us to do what we need to do.

AP: You've reconsidered some aspects of the approach you took in your piece for The Atlantic, where you focused on women at the top. Can you explain?

Slaughter: There was a tremendous amount of criticism about my article being elitist, and I knew it was elitist. I wrote about that, but the more I studied the women's movement and thought about the issues, the more convinced I became that we really do have to focus on all women.

But there's a paradox. By talking about women, inevitably we want to measure our progress and that means we look at things we can count, and that means we look at women at the top: How many CEOs are out there? What's the percentage of women senators? So that framework actually sort of obscures many of the larger issues that are holding all women back, and that's one major reason that I'm focusing on care.

AP: You believe your former boss, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is a good example of the working woman's changing professional needs at certain times of life. How so?

Slaughter: In the book I write about Phase Three of life and how when your children are out of the house you have a whole other phase where you can have another surge. Secretary Clinton didn't run for the Senate, much less president, or be secretary of state until after Chelsea went to college.

Obviously she has a huge amount of support. Her life doesn't reflect the lives of many other women, but as a sort of role model for what a woman can do and accomplish, she started with a really successful career as a lawyer but then became first lady, both in Arkansas and then in the White House, but she didn't advance her independent career until after Chelsea went to college.

AP: You spend a lot of time in the book talking about just that, the interval approach to work advancement and caregiving. Where do you see the Lean In approach put forth by Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg fitting in?

Slaughter: You can have room for both, and this is true for men, too. You think, there are going to be intervals in my life when I can really go all out and compete no holds barred, and then there are going to be intervals in my life when I want more time for care. As long as I plan it right and keep my hand in, so I'm never out of the game completely if I can help it.

But my view is unless we're equally focused on men as caregivers, this is really not going to work. It's going to be a halfway revolution.

I think Lean In fits in for any woman who is at a place in her life where she can go hard, where she has either no caregiving obligations or a complete support system. By complete support system, I don't mean a man who helps. I mean a man who's the lead parent. Or an extended family member. Maybe it's your mother.

I see young women who work for me applying the Sandberg principles and I think, 'Great stuff.' But I think the idea that you're going to be able to do that consistently throughout your life, for some women, yes, but for many, many, many others you need to understand that caregiving can be another full-time job. Lean In doesn't go far enough to get us to full equality.

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Follow Leanne Italie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/litalie

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Online:

http://www.princeton.edu/~slaughtr/