When Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” a magazine piece in The Atlantic about the reasons many women step away from ambitious, demanding careers, many readers confused the messenger with the message.
“I became known as the person who really thought women couldn’t have it all,” Slaughter said at a lunch appearance organized by the Toronto Region Board of Trade last week. But as she made clear in her talk, Slaughter vehemently believes women can take on big jobs if workplaces do more to support them.
Most positions are structured “as if everyone has a wife at home” who can shoulder the burden of daycare pickups, meal preparation, family appointments and eldercare, Slaughter says. But most women don’t, and if they keep leaning in at work—a la Sheryl Sandberg—they’ll eventually topple over. Slaughter herself did, leaving a meaty position in the U.S. State Department because she found it too hard to balance the needs of her family and her job.
Her recently released book,Unfinished Business, explores how workplaces need to change to support employees. Here are six tips for getting started:
Tap your millennial employees’ enthusiasm for work-life balance
Millennials have less rigid notions about gender roles, Slaughter says, and they’re keen to talk about ways to achieve a reasonable work-life blend. “We need to be discussing these things. So start some millennial groups at work, and get them talking.”
Encourage the right to experiment
Ask employees to tell you what changes would make their lives better. It might be flexible working hours, a late start on Fridays or a quiet space for private phone conversations with family members. “Let’s reinvent the workplace,” Slaughter says. “You can do that by encouraging ‘I could do a better job if…’ conversations.”
Career planning should factor in personal lives too
If you’re a mentor to a younger employee—male or female—ask if they’ve thought about how they’re going to combine work and family.
Don’t fetishize long workdays
If you really want to change workplace culture, stop thanking employees for sleeping at the office. Send them home instead, Slaughter suggests. “Make long hours a badge of inefficient time management.”
Forget about career ladders, and think about intervals instead
Ladders need to be perpetually climbed, but most people aren’t able to sustain a relentless upward trajectory. Kids come along, as do illnesses. Parents die. But kids also grow up and move out, leaving many professional women in prime position to kickstart their career again. “Just like athletes run intervals, we should think about work that way too,” Slaughter says. Sometimes, it makes sense for an employee to slow down for a while, but that doesn’t mean they’re never going to sprint again.
Recognize that men are caregivers too
Many male employees would love to work less and spend more time with their families, but rigid societal roles force them into the stereotype of primary breadwinner. Managers and female colleagues can help shift gender expectations by responding positively when men say they want to leave the office early to catch their kid’s piano recital, Slaughter says. “We have a lot to do if we want to liberate men the way we women have been liberated.”
MORE ON EMPLOYEE WORK-LIFE BALANCE:
- Why You Should Let Working Moms Leave Early »
- The War on Work-Life Balance »
- Why You Should Make Staff Stick to the 9-t0-5 »
- 4 Tips for Getting the Best Out of Your Staff »
- What Today’s Employees Really Want »
Have you made any of these changes at your business? Would you consider doing so? Share your thoughts and experiences by commenting below.