Are We Making Progress Balancing Work And Life?

Posted on June 25, 2012.

A friend posted the article from The Atlantic Monthly by Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All on Facebook and told me that I really should read it. I will admit to being an avid reader of opinion and research on the subject of work life balance, and I will also admit my friend was right – this one is worth reading.

This particular friend is expecting her first child, while my first child just graduated from high school, but this underscores the fact that the issue of balance spans your entire work life. It doesn't just span a woman’s career, but it also spans a man’s, whether or not you are a parent. The fact that this is still considered a female problem demonstrates the greatest lack of progress in the dialogue around work life balance.

Professor Slaughter and I agree on many points. From my perspective the most important career and life advice is to be true to your self.  Do what gives your life the greatest meaning, not what you think is expected of you by society or anyone else. While I say this, I do have great concerns about women dropping out of the workforce in large numbers, because as I have said before if there are less women to choose from, there will be less women in the top jobs. This is not just an expression of my feminist logic, but is also a concern for the well being and competitiveness of businesses everywhere. More than half of the graduates with bachelors degrees or higher are women, and if we are only picking our leaders from less than half the applicant pool, then we are severely limiting our success. The question is, how do we create an environment where women and men don’t get penalized for wanting to take care of their families, while also enjoying productive and successful careers?

I agree with Professor Slaughter’s assertions that changing the value of face time, revaluing family values, and redefining the arc of the career are key to making the workplace more balanced. The biggest question is how do we make this happen?

There is no doubt that this has to come down from the top. The much touted admission of Google’s COO that she leaves work at 5:30pm to have dinner with her family is a huge step forward. If every C-level executive would do that it would have a profound impact. Companies and other institutions have to quit just talking about balance while hoping that no one really takes them up on it and penalizing those who do. It is time to redefine doing a good job as not giving it your all, but giving it what it deserves, while also giving your personal life what it deserves.