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It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change. (the Atlantic, July/August 2012)

I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.

Wow. Anne-Marie Slaugther is my new hero!T

There are too few role models around these days — and contrary to the well meaning advice someone gave her to gag her, speaking up about the difficulties of having both caeer and a family is certainly needed). This article is long and detailed. And I admire her for venturing beyond simply analysing the situation and stating the facts, but also offering some constructive ideas on how to change the situation.

First of all — paragraphs like this are tremendously important to read as a young woman with high goals:

To be sure, the women who do make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen (…)  These women cannot possibly be the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves. Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.

Realistic expectations are key.

But to the real bone of the piece: Slaughter argues, in my point convincingly, that there are structural obstacles preventing women from pursuing a career and having the family life they want. The cultural assumptions shaping the work place must be changed if women are to participate fully. Specifically she points to more flexibility and “remote work” rather than “in office work”.

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. As behavioral economists well know, these baselines can make an enormous difference in the way people act.

Her suggestions are timely, backed by research and makes common sense. They do however also necessitate a minor revolution. But I am all for that. It is high-time this conversation is had, and it should be conducted as Slaughter does: allowing room for difference, not arguing that all women want the same thing and recognising the sociological mechanisms that define behaviour.

My only worry is the following statement:

 And if more women were in leadership positions, they could make it easier for more women to stay in the workforce.

I wish it were so. But in my experience part of the problemme is that in fact women in power do not make it easier for young female employees. The often make it harder. Having reached the top by more times than not ‘doing it like the men’ they are very eager to demonstrate that they are not ‘soft’ or giving young mothers/young women an easier time. It’s a in fact a two-folded problemme, since studies show that male bosses are more likely to hire/empower a mirror image of themselves (a young man with matching ethnic and cultural background). But female bosses will not hire women. To prove a point. Slaughter assumes that this will change. I hope it will, but this needs to be part of the debate as well. The ‘sisterhood’ needs re-invention… it has a role to play as we move on to shape a better, fairer and more sustainable society.

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