Women Can’t Have It All: Women Men Work Family. This is a Transcript of an event on October 7, 2015
Anne Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of New America
In conversation with Clara Jeffrey, Co-Editor, Mother Jones Magazine
CLARA JEFFREY: Your article that came out about two and a half years ago in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can't Have it All,” has been read by millions and sparked a long-running hashtag on Twitter. It really touched on a pent up demand for someone to lay out the structural difficulties facing working women no matter her advantages or achievements. Why do you think you struck a chord?
ANNE MARIE SLAUGHTER: Well, the first thing to say is, I sure didn't expect to strike that chord. As I have said, I was in Scotland on a family vacation the Wednesday that it went up, on Wednesday night, and we flew back on Friday. When we landed, I was on the front page of The New York Times; 400,000 people had read the article already, and my mother called up and said, "What have you done?"
And I really wondered about that. You know, my explanation for why it really took off was not that I said anything that had not been said before, and believe me, plenty of people told me it had been said before, and I knew it had been said before, but I think I caught an inner-generational discussion. I think daughters were saying to their mothers, "Look, this is really hard and I'm not sure I want to do it the way you did it." And in other cases, mothers were saying to daughters, "This was hard, you know, harder than it looked. You need to plan for it." So I really think I kind of [created an article where] mothers send it to daughters and daughters send it to mothers—and fathers too, but I think it was mostly women, at least, initially, and that's why I think it took off.
I had women saying to me, "My daughter showed up at Thanksgiving with underlined portions of your article." And it wasn't always a happy thing they were saying; it was like: "Thanks a lot!"
JEFFREY: Because you did face a bit of a backlash. Some people felt that you were only addressing the complaints of affluent high achievers, but you also got blowback from older feminists, and what was their worry? What were you exposing or what were you talking about that they didn't want talked about?
SLAUGHTER: Well on the first, on the being privileged and affluent, I knew that. I was writing in The Atlantic. [Laughter] And I said in the article, "Yes, you know, look, well-educated, affluent,"— I get this completely and one of the big differences between the article and the book is that I have definitely expanded my frame. But I think I anticipated this from older feminists, but I have to say, not as harshly as it kind of hit, which was [the idea that] I was betraying the faith. Right? And the faith was: you can have it all; you can do it, and "have it all," a frame I now absolutely reject for lots of reasons. It immediately sounds selfish; it just gets the whole debate off on the wrong footing.
But the mantra had been, "You can do it." And I had been part of that mantra, and I had been telling people for 20 years as a professor. Young women would say to me, "How do you do it?" And I would say, "You can do it. You just have to want it hard enough," and then I would say, "Yes, my husband and I are tenured professors at a fancy university, and that helps." Well, you know, what I was then realizing was that doesn't help, that makes it possible, and that's a very small slice of people. But I think many older women and many close friends and mentors of mine really felt like [saying], "we're not far enough along for you to say this because you are gonna fuel the enemies of women's advancement. You are gonna lead to the narrative where women can't have it all and so you shouldn't try."
And really, that conversation should be had among women, not publicly. And my response was, "Young women already know this; they already see this, and if we don't talk about it, we're never gonna address what the real point of the article was, which was to say, ‘Here are all the changes we have to make to really get there.’"
It wasn't to say women can't have it all. It was to say "If we're really going to have a family and a career," we're stuck. We need to make all these changes.
JEFFREY: You know you have an amazing partner; he's taking on more than an equal share of child rearing and household duties a lot of the time. But what's the second shift reality for most women?
SLAUGHTER: Well, it's still the second shift. Right? I mean men are doing much more housework than they used to, but women are still doing the majority of it. So I would say that it is less of a burden, and perhaps the best evidence for that is 56 percent of women say it’s somewhat [difficult] or very difficult to balance work and family; 50 percent of men say the same. So men are clearly feeling the stress, but it is true that by and large, the majority of American caregivers—lead parents, primary caregivers, whatever term you want to use—are still women. I do think there are more and more men taking that role, and the reason my husband just wrote an article, was to basically stand up in the same way and say, "I put my wife's career first. That was good for out marriage, that was good for our children and it was good for me." And to try to say to men, this is actually a role you can take and it is a tremendously rewarding role. But we’ve still got a lot of change [to do] there.
JEFFREY: Do you see a generational [shift] afoot there? Is there a big swing between folks of yours and my generation and folks in their 20s?
SLAUGHTER: Yeah, I think it's been pretty steady for generation on generation. My father never changed a diaper—something he's quite happy about. And you know, he was a great dad, but all of that, all the—as one male friend of mine said after having kids, he said, ''it's very biological." By which, a lot goes in; a lot comes out. I have a brother who's Gen. X, who’s 10 years younger. Progressively more and more so, millennial men have the highest rate of sort of rejecting traditional gender roles of any generation. But what we are seeing is that they are often forced into those traditional roles by workplace policy, because if they don't get a paternity leave and she gets a maternity leave, well then she stays home with the baby. You know, three months later, she's the expert, he then has been in the workplace, he often then will work more if she goes part time, and so the next thing you know, regardless of where they wanted to start, they've ended up in a more traditional role.
JEFFREY: You know, when it comes maternity leave, the US is one of three countries, the other two being Oman and Papua New Guinea, that don't mandate paid maternity leave.
JEFFREY: So that's a Gulf state monarchy and a country where 60 percent of men have admitted to committing rape.
SLAUGHTER: [Scoffs] Great company.
JEFFREY: So put our country on the couch, how did we get to be in such dubious company?
SLAUGHTER: You know, this one really is astounding. I mean, so part of it is we don't like the state telling us what to do, and part of it is, I think 60 percent of women are in the workplace; over 70 percent of mothers are in the workplace, but that has happened since 1970, roughly. And at the same time, you’ve had major pushback, really from the right, about, “wait a minute, you are destroying traditional roles, and this is a bad idea.” So in 1971, both houses of Congress, with a bipartisan majority, passed universal daycare, and Richard Nixon vetoed it, in part because of the pushback at that point from the Christian right, and we've been fighting that war ever since. So it's gotten tangled up in [the idea that] women should be in the home when obviously that is just not the reality for the vast majority of American families. Over 70 percent of mothers are in the workforce and 40 percent of women are the primary breadwinners for their families. A lot of those women are single mothers; there's no one home, but the workplace has not adapted and the government has not adapted.
JEFFREY: You've argued that we should almost skip past arguing for maternity leave and go right into arguing for parental leave or family leave more broadly.
SLAUGHTER: Absolutely, yes. Yes.
JEFFREY: Tell me why you think that is a better solution.
SLAUGHTER: Well there are two things: One, we need paid family leave, which means [for] people who have children, parents, spouse, whoever they have to take care of, whenever they have to take care of. Right now, you could lose your job if you don't show up for work. So in my part of the country, if there's a snow day and schools are closed, which they seem to close at the first snowflake, and your workplace is open, you are in trouble. You've got children at home and if you have to be home, you can lose your job. That's paid family leave. We need it, I think we're gonna get it. It's enormously important.
We also need maternity and paternity leave. And there's an extra amount the woman gets if she has a biological child to recover from the birth. But the reason you need paternity leave is [it's] essential for men to develop the same competence taking care of children that women do, it's not like we know. You know, your first child you're kind of like, "OK, which end is up?" You figure it out, right? And that becomes pretty clear pretty quickly which end is up. But what happens then is if the woman figures it out, then the guy is always catching up. And when men have paternity leave, they become equally competent and they also bond with their children differently. So you really want to start out equal, that this is our child. You know, it took two of us, in whatever configuration, it took two of us to have a child; it takes two of us to raise it.
JEFFREY: I think Alexis Madrigal was still at The Atlantic when he was one of many who's argued that not only there be paternity leave but that employers essentially force people to take the paternity leave.
JEFFREY: So, we both employ people, why do you think that that is important?
SLAUGHTER: Because this is part of really changing the idea that both men and women are both bread winners and caregivers, and if you don't provide extraordinary incentives—I don't know if you could force people to take a leave, I mean I'm not sure I can do that as the CEO of New America. I don't think I can say, “you're not allowed to come in to work after your child is born,” but you could create all sorts of incentives. In German and Finland, what they do is you get two months of paternity leave that's "use it or lose it." So only the guy can take it; he can't hand it off to his wife or to his husband, depending on the configuration of the family. And so men have a huge incentive to take it, but I think the reason is because if you do something like that, you can put it on paper, but the pressures on guys are still very strongly [suggesting]: A) You're not committed to your career if you do this, which a woman gets to, but also, [B)] How masculine are you? Are you really one of the guys?
So you have to role model it from senior members of the company and you have to really make clear, as one Finnish CEO said to me, and he's a CEO of a very big company. It was kind of a business meeting, it was kind of traditional business, and he said, in Finland, he's gotten to the point where when he hires a young man who didn't take paternity leave, he wonders about their character. And that's where we need to go. Like, what is the matter with you that you had a child and you would not take the chance to be with that child at the beginning of that child's life?
JEFFREY: You also write quite a bit about the flexibility stigma.
JEFFREY: Tell us a little about that.
SLAUGHTER: That's exactly that. Many of us who have good employers, who have maternity or paternity leave but more importantly flexible work hours, you can work part time. You can come in later or leave early, or whatever it is; those policies exist on paper, but if you take them, you are stigmatized. And if you take them, you are basically saying, "I am no longer of leadership track." And it's still better to have those policies than to not have them. I wouldn't say you shouldn't have them, but you're still wasting, losing valuable talent because what's happening then is that the corporation is saying, "Well if you take flexible work, you lost IQ points, or that fancy degree you have somehow doesn't matter, or you're essentially taking yourself out of further advancement on the track that you are on," and my view is we should fight it as stigma. We should fight for flexible policies too. But having them and not having them be something that players take, is not really using them the way they should be used.
JEFFREY: This brings us to technology companies. I'm sure you've read about their giant gender problem in part because of their family policies and certainly their crazy hours. But many of them have been rolling out what sound like some sweet sounding benefits, but let's discuss a few: So one of those is unlimited leave. Now, I've heard that people at companies will say, "Well yeah, my company has unlimited leave, but nobody takes much." It's just frowned upon, so it's this sort of Potemkin benefit basically.
SLAUGHTER: Yeah [Laughter] Potemkin benefit, I've never heard that, that's great!
So yes, and I have to say, in that absolutely fabulous video that made me feel like "Wow, look at that company of fabulous speakers here at the Commonwealth Club at Inforum," I did notice the technology panels, they were all men. There was one woman on one of them; otherwise, it was all guys. You know, part of this is just age. And I've been at Yahoo and I've been at Google, and as one woman said, "I'm 25. I'm not thinking about children. I'm thinking about my career," and lots of the guys are young men and they're on campuses that sort of [are] a continuation of college. [Laughter] It is! Because that's what it feels like.
So it's partly that, it partly is the crazy hours, but you really are gonna need what at least one very high official at Facebook has done, which is to take paternity leave and argue for how good it is and argue that, "Look, if we're in this for the long haul," I mean you can be [at] companies that just take people who work from 25 to 32 [hours] and off they go, or you can have them stay with you, in which case, you need to advertise that top people are doing it. My view is that I'd rather hire people who have caregiving experience. I think it's extremely good for you in all sorts of ways, you learn how to invest in other people, which is what management is all about. Building a team and raising a child, [there are] lots of overlap. But the other thing is—no, seriously, 'cause what you're doing is, you're investing in somebody else, you need to guide them, support them, be there when there's trouble, but you also need to let them make their own mistakes and grow on their own. That's what good parenting is about, and the hardest thing is letting them fall down and make mistakes and you have to do that. That is exactly, at least what I try to do as a manager. It's all about empowering your people. And in fact, I've looked at management manuals and parenting manuals side by side, [and] they use different terms, like you don't "empower" your kids, and you empower your team, but essentially, you are investing in your child and letting him or her grow in the same way. But the last thing I think you'd need to do is—and you and I were talking about this—because they have these campuses, why on earth don't they all have really high quality available daycare?
JEFFREY: That's amazing.
SLAUGHTER: Like they're the one place that could do this in a way that would really make a difference. You know, if you were working those hours but you could take hours out with your children at lunch in the afternoon when you wanted to, and if your child were ill or had a problem, you'd be there, that would be a game changer.
JEFFREY: Yeah I mean I think Apple's new campus has something like 10,000 parking spaces being slotted, and the last time we reported on this was a few months ago, so still no daycare policy planned. I'd also like to point out some of the hypocrisy amongst some of the leaders of those companies. I mean the most flagrant example is when Marissa Mayer ended flex time when she took over Yahoo and then she had a baby and immediately broke into the office next door and made a really nice nursery for her baby, which is great, but her child was there with daycare on site. Other families who work for her are not so lucky.
SLAUGHTER: So wait a minute, I do have to challenge that. This is where I come out at a different place than most people expect me to. So the first thing is, she actually—it was a broom closet. It's not another office. It's not another office; it's a closet and she was breast feeding and she did make it a place where she could have her kid. But the second thing is she has just put in maternity and paternity leave very generously.
She should put in onsite daycare, and I hope she will. But the third point, when she did that, I've been a CEO and I have gone into an organization that needed a radical culture change. I really have. And my understanding was Yahoo was in trouble, and frankly at some point if it's enough in trouble, nobody has jobs to go to anyhow, and that she really wanted to shake it up, and she tried other things, and this was the way to shake it up. Now, I might have made a different choice, but I don't think it's fair to judge her as a CEO, to say, "Well, as a woman CEO, you shouldn't have done that." I think she was saying, "I desperately need everybody on site to change the culture of this company to make this company go." After that, I would then put back in flexibility policies or have onsite daycare, whatever. I don't know her, we're not—I'm not standing up for her as a friend, but this is what I understand.
JEFFREY: Well I'm glad she's put them back in. Let's go to egg freezing.
SLAUGHTER: Oh goodness. [Laughter]
JEFFREY: I mean is this really a benefit or is it a trap? First of all, I think the science is way more speculative than people realize. And it's not always that your problem with fertility has anything to do with your eggs, but it is a way to sort of tell young women, "Well you can work a hundred hour week and we'll freeze your eggs and you’ll be fine."
SLAUGHTER: So this one's tricky. On the one hand, my basic proposition is that we now live long enough, certainly the young people among us are going to live long enough, that there is plenty of time if we make the right cultural, social and political changes for everyone to be able to go hard at their career or work in their jobs and also enjoy the times when your children are young, and your parents are old, or your spouse needs you or another member of your extended family needs you. There's plenty of time to do both; there really is. And there are intervals where, right after you come out of college, maybe when you're not paired off with somebody, or you don't have children and you can go really hard. And then there are intervals where from my point of view, I decided to have children. [There’s] no point in having children if you can't be with them, but there's then time to go hard again. So that's the starting point, and from that point of view, I would much rather see companies, in general, adopt different policies for different phases and keep people in the game, and if they leave the company, keep them as alumni and try to get them back. So that would be my preference.
That said, I'm on record saying if I knew then what I know now—and this, [freezing eggs,] is a very high-class problem, 'cause this costs a lot of money; this is not a solution for most American women—but I would've—it's easier to get pregnant between [ages] 30 and 35, and [if] I was not married then and it didn’t occur to me to have a child without being married, probably I would freeze my eggs. I don’t think it should be the perk that says, "Great, no problem," because for all the reasons you said, and also, 'cause being an older parent can be hard. [Laughter] I don't have the same energy that I had, but I also think for some women, it gives them assurance that they didn't have.
JEFFREY: A lot of affluent families essentially rely on others to help to go into the breach, nannies, housekeepers, babysitters, et cetera. How do we keep from essentially offloading, offshoring almost, our stress onto other families that have their own work/life balance issues?
SLAUGHTER: Yeah, and this is one of the books Alison Wolf wrote about [how] women used to have a much more common experience: As women, we all or most of us got married, had children; that was our lives and that the women's movement has really stratified different classes of women so that, as you put it, wealthier women hire poorer women to take care of our families. That's the biggest reason that this book focuses on care, because I actually think that the caregiving and having caregiving discriminated against is a unifying factor between wealthier women and poorer women.
Now the consequences for poorer women are far graver, right? I mean, if you're a poor woman, and again, you have to miss work to take care of people, you can lose your job, you can get demoted, you can get your pay docked, all of that. So I'm not gonna say, "Oh, we're all in this together," but I am saying that's discrimination against caregiving. We are not supporting the care giving of the poorest women. We're not providing the workplace policies or, frankly, the paid leave, or the daycare or anything else to help them.
Wealthier women are also being discriminated against for caregiving. Far less earth shaking consequences, but again, if you take time out to take care of your children, or your parents or your spouse, you are demoted from leadership track. You are pretty much knocked off of the standard career track. So I think care focuses on that frame. At the very least [it] allows us to put in place a lot of policies that would definitely help poorer women. And the next part of it is to say, "Those women should actually be getting certified, and educated and paid well," because, what they are doing is shaping the brains of the next generation. We now know, the neuroscience is completely clear, and New America does a lot of work on early education. You are not just teaching your kid the ABC, you are teaching your kid the ability to learn whatever she or he is gonna learn for the rest of his or her lifetime. And there is just no more important work than that. There really isn't. I mean I can't think of anything that I will do in my lifetime that is more important than literally allowing, or giving, my children the ability to learn over their lifetime. So that also means valuing care. And Ai-jen Poo has done a lot of work with the caregiver's alliance for eldercare workers; it really means valuing that work, and then paying for it.
JEFFREY: So let's turn to school then. Because I think school is something where both caregivers are not fully appreciated, but it's also one of the most frustrating structural problems for working parents. And don't get me started about summer camp.
SLAUGHTER: There's that week in between school ending and summer camp beginning that I used to think, "Who do you think is taking care of my children?" Like fairies are coming out of the woodwork to take care—I mean what is this? This is crazy.
JEFFREY: So why, historically? Again, why is our school system still set up as if there is a fulltime stay-at-home mom just as a given?
SLAUGHTER: Past dependence. And lack of imagination and will to change it. Yes, we have an agricultural school system. It's not just about stay at home moms, it's—we're still on the farm. We have a summer vacation so that kids can work on the farm. And that's a very small number of kids. In my article, I quoted this fabulous woman I work with who said, "The single most important thing you could do for working parents is to have school schedules match work schedules." So it's complicated, right? It is also a matter of teacher unions, because a lot of teachers took those jobs precisely so they could be home more with their children. And remember, the majority of teachers were women. This was one of the few jobs women could get, so it's complicated, and they don't want change.
It's also such a massive change. I actually think we're gonna get that change as we reinvent what school looks like. And we are doing that, in part because our educational system is way behind other industrialized countries, and I think we're gonna leapfrog a lot of those countries. Laurene Powell Jobs just had this enormous initiative for reinventing what high school looks like. And having had two high school students—I've got one still in high school—who've learned more from Khan Academy and other things online, than they did in class, and they're in a good public school, I'm thinking, "This just doesn't make sense." There are so many better ways they could learn. And similarly for younger kids, there are ways that, again, you could make a day of learning that is not school and after school. So it is hugely frustrating, I don't think we're gonna be able to tackle this school system and change the hours. I think we're gonna have to have more radical change than that.
JEFFREY: It's a real problem, because I think you get into sort of psychic debt to the women who have more time to spend at the school, who run the PTAs. And the PTAs are geared towards families with more flex time and it's a very complicated interlocking problem.
SLAUGHTER: It absolutely is.
JEFFREY: You say that what we really need is a men's movement, not a women's movement to change this stuff. Why don't you tell me a little bit more about that?
SLAUGHTER: Well I think we need both. But I basically say that, to finish the business of the women's movement, which is where the title of the book comes from, we need to value care much more. We need to understand how valuable it is and make room for care. [We need to understand] that it's a work problem, not a women's problem, and that we need to expand the roles and choices open to men. So that's the men's movement piece, and at some level, it's just plain logic. You can't have a system where women did all the caregiving, and again, these were white affluent women, middle class women who were at home, 'cause working women were not at home, and women of color were not [either]. But the basic structure of the system was: women were at home and men were in the workplace. And then we changed women's roles, but we didn't change men's roles. It just won't work.
It leads to the second shift; it leads to women doing two jobs and men doing one, and then we wonder why women aren't advancing at the same level as men. Well the answer is pretty obvious that the men at the top all have full-time caregivers at home or lead parents at home. We never would ask a male CEO to be the person that drops everything when the school nurse calls, or who has to be home when the kid has run a fever for the third day in a row, or brings a school project that they've had for three weeks but suddenly just remembered is due tomorrow. So, you're gonna have to liberalize roles for men. And I say liberalize and many people might hear, "Huh? What? Men have it," right? This is what women want.
I don't think so. Many men wrote to me and said essentially, “I have been socialized into this role. I would like more choices, I'd like to be home more with my family; I'd like to be able to work part time, I would much prefer a different balance, but I am locked into this role.” And one guy wrote me and said, "You're probably skeptical," and I was. And he said, "Back in the '50s and the '60s, men said women didn't want to work. Men said women liked being in the home; they were born nurturers; they didn't want to be in the dirty, ugly world of work." Well that was not true, right? When women were actually given the choice, lots of us did want to work. And we haven't given men that choice. So my proposition—and when I looked at my sons, I realized I was still raising my sons the way my father had been raised. Or at least, unless you're actively counteracting social pressure, your sons are getting the message that their worth in life is determined by their bread winning, not by their role in the family. And they are going to have to have both. And same-sex couples have made a huge difference here, you've got two men or two women, they figure it out in ways—particularly two men—that means one of them—either they both do both or one of them is the lead parent and one of them is the lead bread winner. That can change the way we think about men's roles.
But ultimately, you're going to have to have men who say, "I want both too, and I don’t want to have the same relationship with my kids that my father had with me," if their father was always gone, as many men have said to me, and [they say] "I want to be a central figure in my kids' life." It's pretty great when your kid really needs you. And I tell the story now 'cause Andy's lead parent when we travel. The kids text him more than they text me and that drives me crazy 'cause I'm quite competitive, so then I text back to them and say, "What am I, chopped liver? What's the problem? Why didn't you text me?" But ultimately I do that in jest, but I think it's fabulous that my sons have that relationship with their father.
And I think in many ways, he's been a better parent, and is better suited to some of the parenting. Particularly some of the discipline particularly with strong boys than probably I am. And I think together, we're better than either of us alone. But the mix where he's the lead parent and I'm the lead bread winner works better for us. And why shouldn't all couples have that option? Depending on who they are, not whether they're a man or a woman, but who they are, how ambitious they are, how maternal or paternal they are, what their boss is like, what industry they're in, there are many reasons other than gender.
JEFFREY: You'd mentioned that one thing that doesn't get talked about a lot is the sexism that women put on men. That if they don't take on the lead role [as] the lead financial earner or the leader of the household, that subconsciously or consciously, that is an issue for a lot of women still.
SLAUGHTER: Yeah. Absolutely. So this is where this gets really hard, because gender roles are constructed by both genders. So again, if you think about it in terms of women, femininity is constructed by what other women think is appropriate, that's [the idea that] mothers hand things down to daughters. But it's also, of course, constructed what men are attracted to, and so I say, when I was growing up in Virginia in the '60s, a girl who was competitive, much less a girl God forbid beat a guy, was unfeminine. My father would tell me, and he was joking, but there was always something there. If I played tennis with a guy, "Don't lose your head and win." 'Cause he was saying, "If you beat him, he's not gonna be attracted to you." So, to really reconstruct a notion of masculinity, it isn't just what other guys think, it's also what women find attractive. And here, women have some major double standards. Like we want the guy who is gonna allow us to have our careers, but we don't want him to have less of a career than we do? That doesn't work. I mean sometimes it can, and if you have enough money, you can just outsource all of it, but really, if you're gonna have a big career, he's gonna have to be lead parent. And you're gonna have to see that a good, strong, sexy, wonderful man, is a man as competent in the household and with children as he is in the workplace. And a lot of women aren't there yet. We've got work to do' and we've got work to do equally about how they run the household.
Many of us are all for them helping, which means we make the list, and they fill them out. Or they do the task on them, the way want them to, and we call them roughly every two hours if we're traveling, to make sure they gave the kid whatever you think the kid should have for dinner, [or] they did whatever. And my husband was very categorical. You know, he said, "I'll do this. You've got opportunities; I want you to take them. We will be happier, but I'm doing it my way. And if you want to do it your way, you can come home and do it." And you know, I have to say, it was really hard. I really did think I knew better. And sometimes, you know, I still do. But I've also realized that he's a really good parent. I have what my mother did with me, and so I feel comfortable, and I say this is what we need to do, and he has different ideas. The example I always use is he thought that the boys and he should watch all the Marx Brothers movies for a couple weekends. So for a couple weekends, that's all they did. They watched the Marx Brothers movies. They didn't clean their room; they didn't do chores. They didn't do any number of things that I thought were essential to do. But I look now and think, "What are they gonna remember?" Right? Like they had a great time; it's a cultural education; it was something my husband thought was much more important than whatever it was I thought was essential, and who is to say I'm right?
But again, my point is, a gender revolution has to happen in both directions, and that means we women have got some work to do.
JEFFREY: Can you talk a little bit about how the on demand economy is gonna play into this equation of changing roles in men and women?
SLAUGHTER: Yeah. So at the high end [of an] on demand economy, by which I mean project work for lawyers, for doctors, for coders, there's even in LA, there's basically "Rent an Executive" or "Rent a Boss." So if you're really good at getting a project done, you can step in as an executive and do that. So at the high end, this is a godsend for women and for men, because it means you can keep your hand in the market. You can still work as a lawyer; you can still work as a doctor, whatever you are. And that means, when you're ready to ramp back up, you don't have the problem of getting back in, and you've been in all along. And smart companies, again, will keep people as alumni. In fact, the general council for Microsoft said to me that they had their former attorneys who are now caregiving, sort of stay to work on a project basis. So this is really a godsend and it will increase.
Now, that's the high end. That is not the on demand economy that most people are talking about or the sharing economy or the gig economy, whatever your term is, [which] is much more at the low end. And there, yes, it's better than a job where you can't schedule your time at all, [but] because you're an Uber driver or TaskRabbit or whatever it is, you do have more flexibility, but you have no benefits. And so my proposition is that on demand economy can work—and we're gonna see lots and lots of changes, I actually think we're moving in that direction and you can't stop it. But what you can do is to say that economy will only work with a real system of portable benefits.
So what we've done with health care, then we have to do with retirement. We have to do [the same] with all the other benefits that we give and we have to pay people enough that they can in fact afford those. Then they will get flexibility that will help them to do other things, but they are not giving up any chance of actually building assets and building into a middle class life.
JEFFREY: If either one of us were given a magic wand and we might say, "universal daycare," and "robust family leave," and "longer school years," and "better bathroom stalls for women," and lots of other things, but let's go to what might be politically possible. Let's say your old boss, Secretary Clinton becomes president, [and] by some miracle she has a functional Congress to work with. What would you advise be the first push? I mean what do you see can be done? It's a political fix and not an individual corporate fix.
SLAUGHTER: I do think you can get paid family leave. I mean in part because it's starting to happen on the state level, and right now the labor department is pushing really hard on the municipal level. Cincinnati passed paid leave over the weekend; Washington, DC just passed 16 weeks of paid leave this week, and it's got support from the city council; there are 10 other cities. So, it's coming, and the way this political system works, the more states, the more cities have it, the easier it is to get federally. I think what it will look like, I don't know. Marco Rubio's system is not that you're mandated to pay for it but that you can basically earn credits, if you work overtime, that goes into a paid leave bank. So you may well have to craft a compromise, but I do think that if you have a president who wants it enough, there is real support, again, not as a women's issue, but as a middle class issue. So that's the first thing I would absolutely go for. And in a way, Bill Clinton got the unpaid leave and only for companies over 50 employees, and that was a great victory at the time. Well that was 20 years ago, so let's move to what other countries have.
Beyond that then, I would start pushing for maternity and paternity leave. That is a harder lift; that is definitely a harder lift. Although, six weeks, you would think maybe. Or maybe less than that, but I think the next thing I'd probably go for is more [of] a push on daycare. And what I would push for is this is a market. This is actually a tremendous market in eldercare, because again, the baby boom is turning into the elder boom. It is just as important as many of us are going to be taking care of our parents as taking care of our children. So I think I would push for some combination of regulation, mandates, but also lots of incentives to create that market. And the private sector, I think will fill it in. And then you can start pushing, and maybe it's gonna be on a state basis for paternity and maternity leave. I think you do have to try to get government intervention, because otherwise the good companies basically get undercut by the companies that are not doing it. That's not true out here with the fancy high-tech companies that have or are willing to offer all sorts of things because the labor market is tight, but the labor market is not that tight in many other parts of the country.
JEFFREY: You're an international lawyer, foreign policy expert, tenured professor, a CEO, a famous author, when was the last time you got mansplained?
SLAUGHTER: [Laughter] Oh that's interesting. Um, it does happen in foreign policy. It definitely does still happen in foreign policy where I will be with a guy, talking about world events and I will get kind of a primer of what Syria is or what Russia or Putin is doing. But you know, I have to say, in my life, I'm the CEO. I've got lots of fabulous men who work at New America. That hasn't been such a big problem, and I'm proud to say both my sons, and certainly my husband, but both my sons are keenly aware of mansplaining, and don't do it. [Laughter]
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Hello. My name is Emily and I am in a unique position. I am a cofounder of a food and technology company with my husband, so we co-lead as man and woman together, and family is very important to us and daycare is something we talk a lot about integrating into our technology company. I'm curious if you have examples of companies that have done it and done it well that can serve as a model.
SLAUGHTER: One place to look for examples, and I should have mentioned this earlier, I'm on the board of an organization that wants to become a movement called OpenWork, like OpenGov or Open Source, and it has all sorts of examples of companies that have managed to do this well, including daycare. So that's one place to look, and it's all sorts of different companies. It's everything from energy companies to telemarketers to construction companies and lots of different ways to work this out. The other thing that I have seen with small companies is—and I write about Sabrina Parsons, actually, in the book, who has a software company [with] just really liberal ideas about bringing your kids to work when you need to. And obviously it sort of depends on the age of the child, but a sort of view that you can put it together a lot of the time, and a lot of it is, when your caregiver is sick or when school's closed or whatever, so that you can make it work in a way that allow people to have their own childcare arrangements, but also have a workplace that's just totally family friendly.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Hi my name is Rachel. As someone in my mid-20s, I was just wondering, do you have any advice in making career choices, choosing a partner and during this time period, to optimize your skill set if you're someone who wants to have a family? Because as you mentioned, career happens in spurts, and if you want to have a family, there's places where it'll go faster [and] parts where it will slow down. Is there something or any words of advice you have not mentioned yet today that you would tell your mid-20s self?
SLAUGHTER: To read my book. [Laughter] That is why I wrote it, there's a lot in there; for instance, around questions you should raise with a prospective mate, because just saying "Will you support my career," really isn't good enough. You've got to ask tougher questions, and I have a whole set. [There are] things like, "If I get a promotion, will you move for me?" Those are the kinds of issues that are much tougher, because it's easy to think you'll support each other if neither of you has to make a trade-off. But it often doesn't work that way. So there's that. I think I would absolutely be assuming that at some point in my life, in the next 10, 20 years, you may well want to downshift. And that's the way I sort of think about it. So think now. And I ask young men to think about this as well as women.
That's part of it. [I] talked to my male mentees and said "Think about this: How can you develop the skills now that will allow you to work differently at those times?" So, just as an example, if you have any desire to write about things, writing is a very flexible career. It's not an easy one, but it is a flexible one. If you are interested in management, have you thought about—in the time that you have young children or teenagers, those are the times I think that are most important—could you run a small NGO? Could you go into the non-profit sector for that period? Which [it] is more flexible, not as well paid, but more flexible and you get management experience and fundraising experience, and it's tough, believe me. It will definitely sharpen your skills. I talk about: think of your career as a portfolio of skills and experiences. Look at the people who are at the top, and figure out not what titles did they hold, those jobs won't exist by the time you get there, but what do they know how to do? And how can you get that experience so that when you're ready for big jobs you can say, "But I have this experience and that experience and I learned how to do that."
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Thank you
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Hi my name is Sharron. I'm 45; I had to drop out of the workforce and I got my doctorate in caregiving.
SLAUGHTER: Wow, Good for you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: However, both of my parents died within a year and a half of Parkinson's disease, and I have three kids. One was evaluated for autism 'cause of delays, which thankfully he got over.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: I've found that's it's incredibly difficult to explain my caregiving delay, and why is a very delicate answer because it's not valued. What I wonder if you could answer is how do you explain the caregiving experience and its value and the reason there's a hole in your resume when our resumes are Google Searched by keyword and date, and all of these robotics that lose the human factor. Thank you.
SLAUGHTER: This just makes me angry, but I have to. So there's the immediate, practical answer is you take that time and you put things on your resume like “consultant” or “writer” or other things that at least won't knock you out. I'm quite certain that—I mean if you were getting a degree—how over you can work it, and that would be the immediate advice because I can't waive a wand and make everybody caregiving, and I understand that is an issue. So for that, I would do that. The next thing though that I would say when I was interviewing [for a position] is, “Look, I think actually I developed a lot of skills during that period that are really transferrable to the workplace. And you know you could hire me for three months and see what quality work I do.” It’s the same thing I tell people who want more flexible work in the workplace. It's not “Please accommodate me,” it is: It is "I think I can do a better job if you do this this and this. Let's try it.” It's not a given. Rather than trying to get what should be the reaction, which is, “You are a really great human being and you have the kind of character I would like to hire.” We can't make we can't make that happen. At least you could get somebody to see: “You know look, I have a lot of skills, I have this degree, I think they're transferrable. Give me a chance and I'll show you.” That's the best I could do.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: Hi, you've mentioned in both, either in this session or in the past in your articles, a number of tough decisions you've made whether to take a job, to step back from a job to start something else. I would love to hear how you made those [choices] and even specifically, what guide post, or who in your life were those signs to help you measure what decision to make and how to make it?
SLAUGHTER: Wow. So, yes, I mean I don't think this is not in the book, but I was very determined to be a lawyer and I had it all mapped out. My college roommate says I was the single most directed human being she had ever met, because I had figured it all out. I was gonna go to college; I was gonna go to law school; I was gonna work in a big New York firm; I was gonna go to the state department and I had really mapped it out. And I went to law school and I worked for a big firm in the summer, and I discovered I hated it, which was definitely a problem. It was not part of the grand plan. Like I really hated it. Like I thought, "I can't do this. I am completely fungible with 50 other associates. I just can't do this." And so then I kind of spun out for about four years working for a professor. But, at that point, I developed one of those sign posts, which is, "I'm not sure what I'm gonna do, but I'm not gonna do something I hate."
Now there's “I'd rather take risks,” 'cause I really didn't know what was gonna happen, than “do something I hate.” And that was scary and depressing, I'm not gonna make light of it, but what it meant was, that when the next opportunity came, I was free to take it. 'Cause I had sort of cleared the decks, and when my professor said, "You should think about teaching," I'd never thought about teaching, but I said. "OK. I'll try this." So that's one: Taking risks; because it's worth it. Because if you like your work, you're gonna do a much better job. And the second is—I mean I think, fundamentally, I have a bad case of ADD, but I've just always managed to find ways that it gets rewarded—I get bored easily. And I really like new challenges. And so I left a tenured position at an Ivy League university to take over a non-profit that I adore. But really, I did it 'cause I wasn't learning anymore as a professor. I was not growing. I was not challenging myself. Now that's an individual thing. People have different levels of risk aversion, and my mother thinks I'm crazy still, so—I make it sound like she questions everything I do. We have a great relationship, but she does—I gotta say, leaving that tenured position, she was a little nervous about. But I think part of it is knowing yourself, and I know that when it's hard, I still know I'm growing, and that is more exciting to me than the security of a position that I kind of feel like I've mastered. So those are two things I would say: Do take risks, to the extent you're comfortable. Don't do things you hate, and be willing to kind of explore new challenges.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: Hi, my name is Natalia. I am originally from Ukraine, and I actually had the best experience when my dad would take more responsibilities with my mom in caregiving. And it was really amazing, to have this connection with a man at such a young age. I thought it taught me the skills, kind of, to be competitive. It's acceptable, it's sexy and with that you can go further. So right now, I am the founder of corporate wellness company and chronic management. And just a few numbers, the US economy [is] losing $500 billion in health care costs and $300 billion of those is a stress and anxiety; the rest is chronic diseases. So my question is about [a] more holistic approach to health care and how we can encourage not only the larger employees that have a better ROI, but also smaller employees to engage with the holistic health care wellness care in the organization.
SLAUGHTER: Yes, thank you for that question. And you are absolutely right that our health care costs, [and] our obesity epidemic are all related to stress and it is because we work people literally to death. And we don't recognize, again, in the short term, you can work people to bone and profit. But over the longer term, you burn them out, you pay higher health care costs; you have all the social problems that come from that, and so over the longer term, that's actually counterproductive. That's why when I say this is not a women's problem, this is a work problem, this is a work problem of making room for care, you can say making room for life. For many of us, that's caring for children or old people or for other people. That is simply doing other things in your life that actually makes you a better worker. So you can make this argument in terms of forgone productivity, stress, stress-related health care costs, or simply wellbeing. In all cases, we are essentially losing value and we are, as I said, taking a very short term perspective. So yes, it is a work problem, a big one.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: I'm happy to be at the Commonwealth Club. Thanks for coming. I read a statistic today that surprised me, which said that 50 percent of women between the age of 25 and 44 are child free. I would like to know your thoughts on our role in this society and also the stigmas that we face.
SLAUGHTER: Wow. Is that right, 50 percent? I thought 80 percent of American women were mothers. That's the last—I'm sure there's a way—
AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: Maybe it's the age range.
SLAUGHTER: Yeah, well, OK. That could be. So first point is yes, and you notice that I emphasize childcare and eldercare equally 'cause you can choose children, but you can't choose your parents—you can't choose to have them, and you can't choose who they are either. So a couple of things, one, just because you don't have children does not mean you don't have people in your life that you care about and you want to care for. Those can be nieces and nephews, they can be members of your community—families come in many different forms, and they're constructed as well a biological, and I think the idea that because you're childless you don't have care in your life is—you shouldn't presume it. The other point is, and you have to read the book to get this, but the notion of care that I use, I got from a philosopher who's a man who wrote a book in the 1970s, nothing to do with work and family. He was writing about what care is. What investing in others is and what it does for you. And he said it is the same process as investing in a work of art, a piece of music, a piece of writing, and he uses all these quotes from artists, and it's true. It's like there's something outside of yourself that you're shaping but also has a life of its own. So when I talk about care, it includes self-care, but it also basically includes things you are passionate about, that you invest in other than investing in yourself. That applies to everybody regardless of your family situation.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 7: Hi, my name is Nikita. So you talk a lot about care and the importance of holistic wellbeing and in some cases it seems like that is antithetical to the profit motive and the capitalistic reality in which we live. To what extent do you feel like this is getting at something more and getting at sort of a questioning of the drivers of our economy and the way in which we view success more broadly?
SLAUGHTER: Yeah. It's a great last question, so where to start? As I said, this is a short term gain for a long term loss. So let me put on my foreign policy hat. We are not investing in our children. That is a huge problem for competitiveness. We're working people to death because of global competition, but we're cutting the legs from under us when it comes to global competition in the next generation because we don't have the education, we don't have the investment [and] we don't reward the investment. It's a national security problem.
The Pentagon does have daycare; it pays people the same amount that it pays all its teachers. It really understands that we must invest in the next generation 'cause they're afraid we're not gonna have people who are gonna be able to defend us. The next generation of weapons are gonna require talented people to operate them. So I really do see this, as I'm all for capitalism, but this is short-termism, and it is hurting us. And I would say that equally, as a CEO, I am willing [and] I require people to take time off. It's use is or lose it; four weeks of the leave that you get if you don't use it, you don't get it. So I really want to take time off, and I really do think, and the research shows, that people who are happier, people who are less stressed, are more productive.
So we've gotten ourselves into this kind of viscous cycle, but it's not required by capitalism. And the last thing I will say is, OK, we're not gonna be France. We're not gonna be Germany. But you know, the Nordic countries are very competitive. They have figured out how to create a lot of room for private enterprise and also create an infrastructure of care. And we're gonna do it our way, but we certainly can. It is not incompatible with entrepreneurship and a thriving economy. The last thing I will say is the way to get there is to elect more women. If we elect more women, men also behave differently in parliaments where there are more women, and we will find a way to say [that] both these things are incredibly important, and we can in fact fit them together. We just have to have the political will to do so, and I think we are on the verge of entering into a different phase of that kind of preference in our politics.
JEFFREY: Well you're not entirely off the hook, because it is an Inforum tradition to ask all out speakers the following question. Anne Marie Slaughter, what is your 60 second idea to change the world?
SLAUGHTER: So I'm tempted to say I'd wave a magic wand and make available care of all kinds, but actually, I would say a different one. And I have to wear my foreign policy hat. I think the biggest change to change the world, would be affordable desalinization, because the availability of water, of course in California, I guess I don't have to make this case, but as a foreign policy person, the shortage of clean water—of water period—is the biggest global threat we face. It causes wars, it causes refugees [and] it causes all sorts of stresses. So if I could do one thing, it would be to take all that excess sea water we are unfortunately going to have even if we can fight global warming, and turn it into fresh water at a cheap price. That would be truly globally transformative.