Having It All – 6 Choices YOU Can Make

Choices in Your Work/Life Balance. 

Sounds good, but do you have the courage to make them?

In the last few weeks I’ve written Can “Having It All” Be Reality For Women? and  Sheryl Sandberg’s Version of How to “Have It All”. They’re based on a fantastic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter in the 2012 July/August issue of The Atlantic.

Today, I’m looking at her suggestions for taking on mundane battles and everyday choices about your career and your life. Instead of platitudes regarding getting good mentors and advocating “girl’s clubs” to counter the “boy’s clubs” and/or a phone number of a good nanny agency, she talks about sweeping ideas to help change the basic infrastructure and paradigms of the workplace.

She proposes 6 choices:

1. Changing the Culture of Face Time – With the advent of technology, we have an opportunity to be much less tied to the office than we still are in many cases.  But having the technology is no good if the culture is such that it is seen as unacceptable to use it or is seen as a “last resort” option instead of a viable way to do business. Will you choose to change this culture?

“One way to change that is by changing the “default rules” that govern office work—the baseline expectations about when, where, and how work will be done. […] It is one thing, for instance, for an organization to allow phone-ins to a meeting on an ad hoc basis, when parenting and work schedules collide—a system that’s better than nothing, but likely to engender guilt among those calling in, and possibly resentment among those in the room. It is quite another for that organization to declare that its policy will be to schedule in-person meetings, whenever possible, during the hours of the school day—a system that might normalize call-ins for those (rarer) meetings still held in the late afternoon.”

2. Revaluing Family Values – She compares dedication to a hobby such as marathon running or observation of a regular religious Sabbath to – yes,  dedication to parenting.  When you put it that way, it seems ridiculous. All require an enormous commitment of time and energy, but is parenting taken for granted? Or is getting up at 4:30 to run a household and get kids off to school not as exciting or as respected a goal as 10 mile runs to train for a marathon? Will you choose to change this perspective?

“The discipline, organization, and sheer endurance it takes to succeed at top levels with young children at home is easily comparable to running 20 to 40 miles a week. But that’s rarely how employers see things, not only when making allowances, but when making promotions. Perhaps because people choose to have children? People also choose to run marathons.”

3. Redefining the Arc of a Successful Career – How do we redefine the “peak” in a career? Lateral moves or taking a step back to focus on family have to become “okay”. Not a sign for employers to question your commitment to your career. Or your ambition. Will you choose to take a different path? She talks about the rules for tenure at Princeton changing in 2005.

“The administration announced that all assistant professors, female and male, who had a new child would automatically receive a one-year extension on the tenure clock, with no opt-outs allowed. Instead, assistant professors could request early consideration for tenure if they wished. The number of assistant professors who receive a tenure extension has tripled since the change.”

4. Rediscovering the Pursuit of Happiness – This is a killer.  Defining happiness so that you can pursue it. Go figure. And then being honest with yourself and others about it. If you decide that it’s important to be home for dinner with your family every night, then decide that and be up front with your work about that. Will you choose to truly define what you want? And speak up?

“When I was a law student in the 1980s, many women who were then climbing the legal hierarchy in New York firms told me that they never admitted to taking time out for a child’s doctor appointment or school performance, but instead invented a much more neutral excuse. Today, however, women in power can and should change that environment, although change is not easy. When I became dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, in 2002, I decided that one of the advantages of being a woman in power was that I could help change the norms by deliberately talking about my children and my desire to have a balanced life. Thus, I would end faculty meetings at 6 p.m. by saying that I had to go home for dinner.”

5. Innovation Nation – This is the portion of the program where we yet again look at the research and statistics that show that creating flexibility in the workforce is good for everyone, not just women. It has been shown to raise company stock prices. Good policies attract good talent. Everyone benefits.  …Why is it there is resistance to these ideas? Studies also show that allowing parents to spend time with their kids, playing, may have an even more beneficial effect – the much lauded “innovation” that everyone is seeking. Will you choose to encourage flexible policies?

“Space for play and imagination is exactly what emerges when rigid work schedules and hierarchies loosen up. Skeptics should consider the “California effect.” California is the cradle of American innovation—in technology, entertainment, sports, food, and lifestyles. It is also a place where people take leisure as seriously as they take work; where companies like Google deliberately encourage play, with Ping-Pong tables, light sabers, and policies that require employees to spend one day a week working on whatever they wish. Charles Baudelaire wrote: “Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.”

6. Enlisting Men – Men are becoming more interested in their own work/life balance. The more that they too see the benefits and positive effects of flexible choices, the better it is for everyone. Will you choose to encourage choices for everyone?

“Men have, of course, become much more involved parents over the past couple of decades, and that, too, suggests broad support for big changes in the way we balance work and family.”

“If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.”

So there you have it.  Her manifesto on real world ideas and thoughts on how to make things better.

The “mundane” everyday battles to “have it all”

So, Dear Reader, are you ready to fight the “mundane” everyday battles to “have it all”? What can you do to make it “okay” for your team, or department or company to better coordinate work and family? What if we all went in on Monday and suggested that our teams and companies adopt a policy of scheduling in-person meetings, whenever possible, during the hours of the school day?

I hope this article had encouraged you see things differently. Do you have the courage to suggest something that may seem radical, but could have a big impact on your personal work/life situation?

Are you open to the possibility that you may be surprised by the support you’ll get?


Kirsten Jordan is a Partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @Kirstenkbdb. Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.