Slaughter commended having ambition and drive, but cautioned women to be realistic about the fact that children take time to raise and that the preferences women have as they grow older will change over time.
By Grace Nasri (Managing Editor, FindTheBest)

The WIE Symposium in New York featured a range of high-profile speakers including Prof. Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton, who was the former director of policy planning for the US State Department. One of the highlights of the event was Saturday’s spotlight on Slaughter, who spoke largely about her now famous article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” published by The Atlantic.

Explaining what she meant by her title, Slaughter told the audience, “Having it all, in my view, means having the same work and family choices that men do, because nobody can really have everything they want. That’s a fairytale.”

In response to her piece, which quickly became the most-read article in The Atlantic’s history on the Web, Slaughter said she received thousands of emails; many of the articles were from women who thanked her for giving them a voice. Because of the popularity of the article, Slaughter is now working on a related book.

“I want to give voice to the more than 1,000 women from all walks of life who have written to me. Many of the emails I got were from women who said, ‘When I graduated from college I had the same ambitions as my male colleagues; I went to graduate school, got a job, moved up the ladder. But I got married, had children, and life got in the way; I ended up compromising my career ambitions for my family and now I feel like I have failed the career expectations that I had for myself and others had for me. These women think it is their fault, when we don’t give them the support they need to have the same kinds of career and family options that men do.’ I want to give voice to these women and to open up the discussion, and then tie it to America’s place in the world.”

When asked about what short-to-medium-term solutions she thought could help remedy the issue of balancing professional and family life, Slaughter said, “First, women need to get together with co-workers and schedule work meetings during the time when kids are at school. I’ve been able to do this at the State Department and at Princeton. Second, in my view, if you get your work done early, that’s what I will judge you on, not on how long you’re in the office. Finally, we need people who are happy and productive over the long term, not people who are burned out. We have become more and more productive with less and less and that won’t work in the long term. This isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s also a men’s issue,” the Princeton professor said, adding, “The only way out of this is to start expecting and enabling women to have full careers after their children go to college, even in their late 50s and early 60s. My boss Hillary Clinton is a great example. Hillary didn’t run for Senate until Chelsea Clinton went to college.”

When it was time for the Q&A portion of the talk, one member of the audience asked what advice Slaughter had for professionally ambitious women. Slaughter commended having ambition and drive, but cautioned women to be realistic about the fact that children take time to raise and that the preferences women have as they grow older will change over time.

“Imagine a portfolio career,” Slaughter advised. “Figure out all the things you want to do; I teach, I write, I speak, I administer. Think about how you can combine these things and do them more or less intensely depending on your situation.”

One member of the audience referenced the decision of Christiane Amanpour, the Chief International Correspondent for CNN and Global Affairs Anchor for ABC News, to delay marriage and motherhood until she could first build her professional life, asking Slaughter what advice she would give.

“That’s a great way to do it if you’re prepared to have a family by adopting… But be prepared that that might be your only option. After 35, we’re less fertile…. I know women who have to go through years of fertility treatments to have kids. So you have to be prepared for that.”

Another audience member asked Slaughter if she was a feminist, to which she responded, “I am a proud, card-carrying feminist. If it weren’t for the feminist movement, I can’t imagine what my life would be like. I see myself as a feminist. We’ve come a long way but we haven’t gotten to the point where having a family is the same for men and women. It can be a career obstacle for women,” she said.

Slaughter closed by saying, “Feminism means women should be free to choose as they want. Men and women should have equal choices. But we have tipped maybe too far — for men and women—toward assuming that your career is your source of value. Being a mother to me is the most important part of my life. There’s something wrong when family life is less valued. Careers and family life should be equally valued. We did not take on professional careers to lose our humanity; I am a much better leader because I’m a mother and it does center me as a person.”

Editor’s note: Got a question or answer for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Grace Nasri is Managing Editor at FindTheBest, a comparison search engine. Prior to FindTheBest, Grace was as an Assistant Editor at an international Iranian newspaper. She is a contributing blogger for the Huffington Post. Grace holds a BA in Political Science and Global Studies from UC Santa Barbara and an MA in International Relations from New York University. Follow her on Twitter at @GraceNasri.