Thursday, June 21, 2012

Maybe It Would Help If We Called It Having a Life Instead of "It All"

I wasn't going to read Anne-Marie Slaughter's article in the Atlantic, Why Women Still Can't Have It All, because the combination of the headline and the cover image made me think that this would be a continuation in the "print media flings crap at mothers and inflames another round of "mommy wars" in order to drive sales"  game that seems to be popular right now, and I wanted no part in that.

Then a reader sent me the link with a recommendation that I read it, and I'm so glad she did. I still hate the headline, because I think that to the extent that women can't "have it all" (whatever "it all" is), neither can men. When men (or women) choose to work really long hours, they are missing out on something real, too, something that could be considered part of "it all", even if they don't have kids. Life necessarily involves making choices, and when you choose options A,B, and C, you are implicitly acknowledging that options D and E aren't going to happen for you.

But I also think that people should be able to choose "be an involved parent" and "have a stellar career" as two of their options, and I agree with Slaughter's argument that there is a lot in how we organize our work lives right now that makes that harder than it needs to be- in some types of careers, far harder than it needs to be. As Slaughter points out, when this unnecessarily high difficulty level leads some good, talented, and ambitious people to decide that they can not have those two options at once, we should not blame the people forced to make such a difficult choice, but instead look at what is wrong with a system that is forcing that choice upon them in the first place.

If Slaughter stopped there, I'd say it was an interesting essay but incomplete, because it would again ignore women who have found ways to include both involved parenting and striving for a "big" career in their lives. And as long time readers of this blog know, it really annoys me when people tell me that I'm living an impossible life. To be fair, my career is nothing like Slaughter's, so I'd probably have been inclined to let that go with a shrug, not a rant. 
However, as this piece in Slate points out... most of us would consider Slaughter's career to be pretty "big". True, she felt the need to curtail it in favor of the needs of her family, but the point at which she had to curtail it is far beyond what most of us will achieve. I am not sure how much that should scare ambitious young women looking ahead to their own years of balancing career and family, since most of them will not be faced with a situation as difficult as she was. But I also know that my view on that is not only not one that all women hold, but also one that infuriates some women, so I think there is something interesting to be explored here. Unfortunately, the current "mommy wars" climate is probably not all that conducive to exploring this topic.

Anyway, Slaughter goes on and takes on the reasons for the conflict between career and family, and in my view, she gets that largely right. This is why I think you should go read the article, even if it feels like rewarding the editors of The Atlantic for their mother-baiting. The quality of the article makes up for the obnoxiousness of its presentation. It is long, but it is worth the time.
I liked seeing someone in a mainstream venue look at the work vs. family issues and conclude that the problem is with the work place, not the women. If there is anything I hate more than writing that inflames the "mommy wars" it is writing that refuses to contemplate the possibility that a work environment that is currently unfriendly to people who want a life outside of work could change without undermining the company involved. (This, by the way, is why I can't stand reading most of what Penelope Trunk writes on careers- her insistence that women, and in particular mothers, don't belong in venture-backed start ups makes me want to scream at her to go take some remedial logic training. And yes, I have worked in venture-backed start ups. Three of the five companies for which I've worked have been venture-backed. But that is a rant for a different day.)

I particularly liked a couple of quotes. Discussing the way that people subtly judge mothers in the work place, Slaughter makes a comparison between the responses to an employee who runs marathons as a hobby and to a mother :

"The discipline, organization, and sheer endurance it takes to succeed at top levels with young children at home is easily comparable to running 20 to 40 miles a week. But that’s rarely how employers see things, not only when making allowances, but when making promotions. Perhaps because people choose to have children? People also choose to run marathons. "

I suspect that part of the difference is that employers think that when push came to shove, the marathoner would give up running, but the mother would always prioritize her kids. That doesn't detract from her point, though, especially since I suspect employers are probably wrong about the marathoner.

Towards the end of the article, Slaughter talks briefly about what we might do to change this situation:

"If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us."

Of course, that is not very concrete. How, exactly, am I to insist that work place norms change? I don't know, and she doesn't say. But I do have some ideas about how I can help make them change, albeit in a small way. I have started being more vocal about my opinions on the importance of good planning at work. I cannot speak to government jobs, particularly at the level Slaughter was working, but in my science/tech world, 90% of the work-life balance issues I see employees suffer through are caused by bad management.* No one I know really minds having work take over their life for the rare true emergency. We resent the steady encroachment that we can see buys no real value for our employers, but that management nonetheless insists is necessary to compete. I am not yet senior enough (or obnoxious enough) to point out the bad management when I see it. But I have started talking more openly about good management practices. My team is demonstrably performing well right now- we're hitting our goals on time and within budget, and we're getting a lot done. People are noticing and asking me how we do that. I of course credit my wonderful employees, who are truly talented. However, I also say that we plan our projects out ahead of time, and that doing this makes us all more efficient. Furthermore, I have gotten more willing to speak up about work limits, and how I think regularly pushing employees to work long hours is an entirely avoidable risk to projects and often backfires. And not only has nothing bad happened to me, it seems people are listening to me, perhaps because I have a track record of bringing my projects in on time.

This favorable reception is leading me to get more serious about the idea of writing a book on project management. For the most part, scientists and engineers are not trained in how to manage projects, and the training that is out there is largely aimed at different types of projects that need far more heavy-handed management than your average scientific research project or limited scope software development project. What I do to manage projects seems obvious to me- identify tasks and dependencies, think about risks, estimate durations, allow some reserve for risk, etc.- but it is just as obvious from talking to the scientists and engineers with whom I work that it is not common in the field. Perhaps I will eventually try to help change that. 

I can make a difference as a line manager, too. We arrange our work in my group so that everyone can have a life outside of work- that is our explicit culture, I have made it that way, and I will defend it up the chain as needed. Of course, as long as we're hitting our goals, not much defense is needed. My impact is not just limited to my team, though. I speak up about the requirements for a good lactation room when necessary- and find that I am usually the only person in the room who has any idea about what those might be. Twice, I have acted as a manager to correct actions I have seen other people take that could be seen as discriminatory on the basis of an employee's status as a mother. In hiring meetings, I speak up in defense of women who have a "motherhood gap" on their resume- and yes, I'd do the same for a man with a "fatherhood gap" if the opportunity ever presented itself. These examples have convinced me of the value of having more mothers in management. To put it bluntly, I notice the problems that the men I work with are mostly clueless about. It is not my unique responsibility as a woman in management to fix those problems, but my presence in the room can help ensure that they aren't just overlooked.

But even if I never write that project management book, and even if I had no management authority whatsoever, I think I could still help change the culture of our workplaces. When someone gossips to me about how Judy is slacking off because she has a baby now, I could observe that while she may have trimmed her hours, she seems to be getting the same amount of work done, so she must have gotten more efficient. When someone tells me that Bob is always taking long lunch hours to go for a run, I could mention how it seems that getting out for a little exercise helps me find solutions to problems that were otherwise stumping me. When someone rolls their eyes when Alice joins the team after 5 years off to care for her kids, and complains about how we'll have to train her on the latest technology, I could point out that she can probably teach us a thing or two about handling competing priorities and dealing with conflict between coworkers. I am not arguing that we can fix the problems in our current work environment just by vocally giving our coworkers the benefit of the doubt. Not at all. I think most of the change needs to come down from management, and I suspect that there is a role for some government regulation (or at least leadership) in there, too. But we all contribute to the "face time" culture, and we all have at least a little bit of a role to play in bringing it to an end.  We control how we judge our colleagues. Let's start judging them on their productivity, not their presence. Who knows? Maybe management will get the hint.

*Edited to add: bad management does not mean "bad managers" and most certainly doesn't mean "bad people doing the managing." We all make mistakes sometimes. I recently made a project management mistake that led to a developer working really long hours for roughly six weeks. I felt terrible about it, and have apologized. And learned from it. But the fact remains that he had crappy work-life balance for those weeks, and it was due to bad management.


  1. Anonymous7:00 PM

    Good post.

    I still don't think I'm gonna read the article-- my work-life balance doesn't include such lengthy pieces! But one of my colleagues emailed me to tell me she enjoyed it.

    The author is actually not the first person to note that the work-life balance at the White House is messed up-- Bill Clinton mentioned the same thing on The Daily Show several years back. He said many of the problems in federal government are because people are no longer getting enough sleep!

    Most of the academics I've known appointed to gov't positions only do it for 1-2 years. Larry Summers is an exception, but he's also a bit ASD. There's a pretty high burn-out rate, and as Christina Romer told us shortly after her stint was up, after you've been there, you're eager to get back to research because you have a lot of ideas. These political academic appointments are not long-term sustainable, and they're not really meant to be (other than say, the Fed, but I bet Bernanke gets plenty of sleep each night... in fact, everyone I know at the Fed is pretty happy with their work-life balance except right around their annual crunch times).

    1. Thanks! It is a very long piece. I needed to let a design idea bounce around my head this morning, so it was perfect timing for me. By the time I finished the article, the design idea had solidified and I could do something with it.

      I will have to go find that Bill Clinton thing. I'm making a bit of a hobby of collecting smart/accomplished people who agree that less work can be more productive. Also, research to that effect, although so far I've only found research from the industrial age. Someone should update that and look at knowledge workers and the like! (I will allow, though, that my skills at finding social science research are weak... I know where to look for science research but not the other stuff.)

      Also- as I mention in the post, I look at Slaughter's career and think: pretty awesome. I didn't highlight it in my post, but I really liked and agreed with her point that we need to take a longer, less linear view on careers.

    2. Anonymous7:24 PM

      Econlit. PsycInfo. ISI Social Science Index.

      Many of the top women in older generations didn't have linear careers. Take a look at Nancy Pelosi, for example. Any time I feel bad about my progress I remind myself that I'm not comparing myself to people my age and I have a few decades to become a major playa still.

    3. Glad you decided to give it a read despite your initial hesitations. I thought the part on taking the long view and considering women's actual life expectancies was spot on.

  2. I had a hard time getting past the cover and title too. I'm interested to see that Slaughter won you over because I was bothered by the logical fallacy -- that her situation that she found intolerable means women can't have it all. I think it just means that she didn't like her situation. She's a tenured prof at Princeton, and she has kids and is still married. I think that shows that women can have it all!

    1. I thought the strength of the second half made up for the annoyances of the first half.

      The situation as she described it is pretty extreme. I doubt any involved parent (male or female) would really want to do it for long. But yeah, she has a pretty great career!

      I feel a rant coming on the whole "having it all" thing. I do NOT need to have it all. Since when did kids + career = "it all"? I don't have homegrown organic produce. I don't have a beautiful home (it doesn't suck, but no one would put it in a magazine). I don't have the perfect recipe for... anything, really, although I do have some pretty good recipes. I don't have manicured nails. I don't have the ability to speak a second language. I could go on and on. I definitely have given some things up to have my family. But I got to choose what I gave up, and I reject the idea that I can't have a kickass career and be an involved mother.

    2. Anonymous7:27 PM

      If you're missing perfect recipes, there's an easy solution: Get one of the books by America's Test Kitchen. One of them is even called, "The Best Recipe." Perfection outsourced and done! One step closer to "it all."

    3. Or better yet, hire a kick ass caterer.

    4. Hee hee. Thanks, guys! But I'm ok with the mediocrity of my cooking right now. The kids aren't really gourmands yet. And my husband makes really good things on the weekends. I'll get to make really good things again some day, too.

      I hire a kick ass baker to make cupcakes for my kids' parties. I make pretty good cupcakes. She makes AWESOME cupcakes. (Jennywennycakes, for those in the San Diego area.)

    5. Anonymous9:33 AM

      Oh, you were actually thinking about doing the cooking? I thought you just wanted the perfect recipe. :)

  3. Anonymous7:20 PM

    And it may be a case of ambition... some people will never have it all because once you have "it all" it's time to start reaching for the next thing. And that has good and bad parts.

    Not to say that we shouldn't have more flexible work places, check our prejudices, etc. Those are all valid points. But from what people have been saying there's a wee bit of the "it's impossible to live on 250K" (if you remember when that was big in the news) analogy going on there. No, no it really isn't. Yes, if you spend like you're making 500K it seems difficult, but really... those of us who aren't tenured at Princeton might be trying very hard not to get out our tiny violins.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I was annoyed by the framing of the article myself, but I didn't read it as Slaughter saying, Feel sorry for me! My life is awful! She was very upfront on Terry Gross about how privileged she is, how she had a job waiting for her when she got back, etc. But the point, as I understood it, is that her own experiences helped her understand something significant about the issue of working motherhood that she hadn't understood before - namely, everyone framing her abandonment of gov't work as a personal failure, and she's saying, wait! That's ridiculous! It's not about me, or ambition, or leaning in, or anything else - it often comes down to this set of *structural issues* that drive women out of high powered professional jobs. She's clear about how she *used* to feel like she had it together and she judged other women, until something happened that put her in that impossible position of feeling like she had to choose between career and family. For me, the article responded to the whole slew of recent feminist (most anti-AP) articles that have been flying around berating women for giving up their jobs. So Slaughter comes along and says HOLD THE PHONE - I'm crazy ambitious and successful and even I couldn't do it. Let's stop talking about personal weakness and start talking about structure. I appreciated this approach because even though I've never become complacent, I do forget sometimes the extent to which my abilities to have succeed professionally are driven by the academic schedule (I own my own time) and luck.

    3. Anonymous6:56 AM

      Bob Gates went back to academia because he kept trying to retire (to a civilian job) so he could spend more time with the grandkids and relaxing but being one of the few competent cross-partisan people in government, when the world starts blowing up he'd go back... but he went back with a strict time limit. Even Hilary Clinton has said she only wants to do the Secretary of State thing for 4 years. Orzag left for many reasons, but nobody blamed him. Rohm Emanuel left to run for mayor of Chicago. The entire counsel of economic advisers gets replaced every couple of years to give new perspectives. There's a lot of turnover among political appointees in the upper levels of government. That's normal. Bureaucrats stay, political appointees move in and out.

      I wonder who and why people are pressuring Slaughter that leaving is some sign of failure when I know of nobody IRL, and I know MANY people professionally who have worked for this administration and the previous three presidents, who thinks it's the least bit abnormal. You do your 1, 2, or 4 year stint and then you go back to Cambridge or Berkeley or wherever. Actual bureaucrats (and I know many of these as well) work more regular business hours and thus can put in decades of work.

      The government structure at the top doesn't just affect women. It's everybody. And part of the problem is that there's a dearth of people who are really good at all of the tasks needed at that level. And part of the problem is things have gotten faster with the 24 hour news cycle, the needs for fundraising, and so on. There isn't as much time to sleep, act, react etc.

      So yes, academia is special. But the life of a political appointee is special too. Perhaps all jobs are somewhere in between, but perhaps not.

      So yes, I agree with this comment that there are structural issues, and these structural issues *may* have a greater effect on women than on men... but at the same time, in the example she's giving, the structural issues are very bad and affect men as well as women, and affect people without families as well as those with. And I have to think it's a very small minority of people who are laying a guilt trip on Slaughter for doing something that everybody does. Actually, I take that back... when someone competent leaves, everybody tries to get them not to go, but maybe the guilt just glides off more experienced political appointees, like your Gates and Orzags and so on. Maybe there's some gender differences there in guilt-taking, since as women that's one of the things forced on us.

      And, at the same time, just because the patriarchy forces something on us, that doesn't mean we have to take it without a fight. There's a combination of controlling your own actions and waiting for change to happen on its own. Even when things are bad, we can still ask for what we want, try to change social norms, not settle... and we can try do these without guilt or blame. So I don't think we should give up, especially those of us who are strong-willed and able to make waves, even if we shouldn't blame other women who choose to lean back (but wouldn't if they were male) because the pressure to do so is too high.

    4. Believe me, I'm no adherent to giving up. I'm all about pushing as hard as I can, for myself, the younger generation, and my kids (there's this great line in the season Finale of Friday Night Lights, where Tammy says [in the context of turning down a job she really wants to benefit her husband's career] What are we going to tell our daughters?" I feel the same way about my sons). I think it's a balance - working for changing, pushing back, empathizing with those not in a position to do so, finding partial solutions.

    5. Anonymous8:44 AM

      I think we're agreed 100%.

      Basically my point is... it seems like she went from Black to White... and maybe there's a compromise Grey that we should be considering! And that grey doesn't just affect or fall on women!

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  5. I agree that the second half of the article was what won me over. I sent it around to a couple of email lists at work as well.

    I definitely agree re: your comment that her *big career* was far huger than what a lot of people want, or get. My beef with the logic (and the horrible title) is that *anyone*, male or female, is going to have a rough time being an involved parent in a job that has them literally NOT HOME Monday through Friday.

    I don't buy her assertion that there's something "innate" about women feeling the pull more than men - I think it's 100% societal and that it is changing - men do worry about these things too and talk about it more openly than before.

    But I'll just sit her and keep ranting about how it's not a Women's issue, it's a parent's issue, or really anyone who has major responsibilities outside of work (like elder care, etc.)

    And +1 to you guys re: "having it all" being a very fuzzy statement. I mean, I can't be a touring rock band drummer and keep my PM job and be an awesome mom at the same time. Does that mean I automatically don't "have it all"? Sigh.

    1. I've been reading Mother Nature by Sarah Hrdy (see sidebar), and from that and some other things I've read, I think the fact that mothers feel more pull than fathers is biological, but not innate. The evidence indicates that it is likely to be induced by the amount of time we spend with our kids as babies, and there is also some evidence that similar changes are induced in fathers who spend large amounts of time caring for babies.

      I think I need to write a post on what I've learned from Mother Nature so far. There is so much in there, it might not be smart to wait and put it all in one post when I finish.

    2. I definitely feel this pull, which I define for myself as biological because it feels visceral to me, rather than emotional. I become deeply anxious when I'm separated from my kids. But my husband is away from them for 20-25 weeks a year ( only alternating weekends during those periods). I could. Not. Do. That. I've left one of them for near three weeks. We'll see what happens when I leave both for three weeks. My husband is 100% co-parent, but it's true that I had long maternity leaves, nursed, and have always been the stable primary care provider, because of the logistics of our situation. I feel uncomfortable thinking about "biology" but for me closeness to them, esp as babies, is an imperative.

    3. Anonymous8:52 AM

      My son was a daddy's boy even as a baby. Mommy needed her sleep, daddy was willing to get up and walk (assuming the problem wasn't food-- I can totally sleep-nurse). And you could definitely see changes when one or the other of us was gone for a conference, he'd either become more clingy or less clingy depending on his age. And these changes were exactly the opposite of what most of the other women on the mommy forum I was on at that time were going through. When their babies wanted mommy, mine wanted daddy. When their older babies wanted daddy, mine wanted mommy. And I'm sure that was directly connected to how much time was spent interacting.

      I'm glad my husband is such a good mommy. Takes off a lot of the mommy guilt, since I figure a kid only needs so much parenting.

      I'd like to read posts on Mother Nature!

    4. Ooh, me too re: Mother Nature. N&M, our daughter sounds like your son. My husband did a lot of the baby care, night soothing, and was home with her 2 days a week when I went back to work after mat leave, so maybe that makes him think differently from other daddies. I could buy that it's biological, but changed by the environment (ie how much time you spend, etc.)

    5. Anonymous10:48 AM

      Excited to see somebody else reading Blaffer Hrdy. Love her stuff and would love to see some posts and discussions of it. Did somebody say book club?

      I am puzzled by how much these issues are framed almost exclusively as women's issues. It's a cop out, I think. A way to avoid having to take a realistic look at just how broken our system is. Obviously, it's not just a "women's problem," but if we call it that, we can, as a culture, take it less seriously. The availability of quality, affordable childcare, flexible schedules, the uncoupling of health insurance from full-time work, all of these things would open the door to more choice for all parents. But we are told constantly by policy makers and the media that these are "women's issues," which seem to fall somewhere well below erectile disfunction research on the list of priorities.

    6. Anonymous11:34 AM

      One of my overworked female colleagues keeps trying to get me to take her place on the uni work-life balance committee... a committee that basically does nothing but has long useless meetings.

      This last time I told her we need to have a guy as our department rep. Apparently there are currently only two gentlemen on said committee (because there are no women in those departments). Work-life balance isn't just a woman's issue and putting useless meetings only on women's shoulders doesn't actually help gender inequity.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. What's up? Why'd you delete that comment? It was fine!

    2. I don't know... I figured I was rude/intrusive asking that.

    3. Gosh, no! I'll answer (for those following along at home, @GMP asked how long it takes me to write a post like this).

      A good ranty post just sort of flows out of me... and I also sometimes write in bits and drabs. I wrote part of this one on my lunch break and part while dinner cooked. All together, an hour isn't a bad estimate, but I'm not sure. I wrote the bulk of it over about 20 minute at lunch, and then cleaned it up, filled in some details, and dug up the links I wanted while dinner cooked. The pizza was in the oven for 25 minutes. But I also had thoughts about the post bouncing around my head while I drove home from day care today, since Petunia wanted to listen to music, not talk.

  7. Huzzah, Cloud! What a wonderful post! I especially appreciated how you transitioned from talking about the ideas in Slaughter's piece to trying to frame some *actual solutions*, which as you note, is the key part that is always missing amongst the hand wringing. It was inspiration to me to think more deeply about the ways I can do this myself, especially as the rare woman in academia who has babies before tenure.

    1. Thanks! My solutions all feel really small to me, but then I think, well at least the nursing moms at my company have a well designed lactation room now. And maybe a few people are starting to challenge their assumptions about hours and productivity, because the fact that I leave at 4:30 is well known, but because of the nature of my team's work, our productivity is pretty obvious, too.

      So I don't know. I still wish for a wider solution, but maybe the "bottom up" approach will get somewhere.

    2. The milliner7:45 PM

      Grassroots efforts have been known to change a thing or two ;). Keep at it, @cloud. You're probably affecting more people/the situation than you realize.

  8. Hi Cloud...been reading for a little while now, but mostly catching up on your archives (good use of nursing time) so this is my first comment. I'm going to preface it by saying I amazingly agree with at LEAST 95% of anything you're ever written.
    However, I was disappointed in the article. I really think she missed a huge opportunity to make a statement about, as you say, "having a life" and current work culture. But by framing it as a "women's"---or worse a "mothers'" issue, she marginalized the topic & automatically relegated it to the ranks of just another "mommy war" article. At the very very least she could've refrained from the whole "mothers feel the pull" more innately nonsense and posed this as the difficulty of PARENTS working very high powered jobs. For heavens sake, she's talking about her 14-year old boy---there is no pregnancy/maternity leave/breastfeeding involved---so she could easily bypass any criticism of women's "biological imperative" and all that with her situation. If her husband had the same job, wouldn't he feel needed back home when the teenage son was having troubles? I call BS that an involved father wouldn't be as troubled or "pulled" as a mother. total BS.
    OF course, there is the purposefully annoyingly inflammatory title. I think everyone who's commented agrees that the phrase "having it all" means absolutely nothing. She's not talking about having it all. She's not even talking about just combining a meaningful career & involved parenting---she clearly did that at Princeton before/after her government position. She's talking specifically about being at the tippy-top of her field. She's responding to Sheryl Sandburg and her "leaning in" advice, by arguing that the reason that women aren't at the top has nothing to do with ambition and everything to do with structural roadblocks. I do agree with this part of her essay, though I wish she's spent more time on really elaborating on concrete changes that any employer can make to improve work/life balance for ALL workers. She adds "enlisting men" at the very end, and frames it as if men would only be interested in promoting such changes as a favor to women, as if they wouldn't benefit just as much.
    Overall I think YOUR rants on work/life balance (for all!) are much more effective than Dr SLaughter's needlessly wordy & unfocused essay.

    1. Dr SLaughter's needlessly wordy & unfocused essay

      Amen. Reading it, I thought to myself how unnecessarily, excruciatingly long the whole piece was. I nearly gave up on page 4.
      In many journals in my field, when you review a paper, there is an option to check whether the paper is too short, too long, or just the right length for the actual content. I found myself wishing there were a "Too long for content" button that I could press (over and over). That piece should have been edited much more aggressively.

    2. ITA, Ana. Too long, with the solution part buried at the end (long after people stopped reading), and not a women's issue by far.

    3. Thanks! I'm flattered that you like my rants better than her essay.

      I don't blame her for the headline or the obnoxious cover art, because she almost certainly had nothing to do with it.

      I wonder if there is a generational difference in our opinions on what an involved father would feel in a similar situation? My Dad was a very involved father by his generation's standards, but my husband is even more involved and he's only a little bit above the norm for his generation. From what I hear, Gen Y expects even more involvement. Which is great. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out int he work place over the next 10-20 years.

  9. Anonymous10:02 AM

    Please, please, please write that book about project management. Project management skills in scientific academic labs are dearly missing. Simple concepts as a resources (as in lab techs) cannot be utilized more than 100% are often not understood. Anyway, I'd order a copy of your book right now.

    1. Thanks! I wouldn't hold your breath for the book, unfortunately. It would be quite an undertaking, and I don't know that I'm up for that big of a hobby project right now. But I may start gathering material....

  10. Anonymous2:37 PM

    Cloud, I realize that in my time away from the internet, I've missed you.

    I did not like the piece at all -- mostly because I'm mystified that AM Slaughter, who should know better, let herself be co-opted into The Atlantic's traffic grabbing mommy wars. She could have written something that elaborated on what you and I both think is the best part of the article -- and in fact been more explicit about the underlying sexism and double-standard.

    Instead the framing of the piece vaguely suggests that women with challenging jobs might have teenagers who turn out to be difficult (and women who are SAHMs will have much "better" kids). It's suggests that there is just one "having it all" when there are as many definitions of that term as there are people. And it, infuriatingly, still defines work life fit as a women's issue versus a people issue.

    And you are absolutely right about bad management being core to this issue. I think many women are in jobs they hate largely because of bad management, and this is an incentive to opt out when they have kids. Even though in absolute terms their definition of "having it all" is not about even a full-time caregiver.

    Shameless self-promotion: here's my post on Slaughter.

    You rock. Keep the faith.

    1. Shameless self-promotion is always fine here, as long as it is roughly on topic! I've been thinking of adding links at the bottom of this to all the great posts other people have written on the topic, but I fear I am not going to have the time to do that before everyone moves on.

      It is interesting, I don't disagree with your post, but for some reason the bad parts of her essay annoyed me less. I'm not sure why. Maybe because I've been on the receiving end of some comments about how I'm sugar-coating my life or not acknowledging that there are structural problems that cause some women to find the balance too hard. I've got the beginnings of a post about that bouncing around in my head.

      I missed seeing you around the 'net, too. I'm always happy when I new post from you pops up in my RSS feed!

  11. Love your post. Haven't gone through comments but I do love that you apply your thoughts to daily life. I have to do so, too. Sometimes speaking up and small changes do make a difference.

  12. scantee5:41 AM

    There were parts parts I liked, parts I disliked, and parts I hated. I hated the overall framing of "having it all" for all the reasons stated here and because we never use that riduculous metric in judging men so why do we insist on doing so for women? A man who was a tenured professor at Princeton who did a stint in government for two years and then returned to his job at Princeton would be considered a great success not a total failure. I understand that this is Slaughter's internal assessment of the situation but it still seems so absurd.

    Work life balance is important, really, so let's stop thinking of it as a women's issue. And while I think it's important I think it's less important than some other things, like universal health care, that would improve the lives of all working people not just professionals.

    1. Anonymous5:54 AM

      universal health care


  13. The milliner8:34 PM

    Overall, I quite enjoyed the article. And even though I had to read it over two nights, I ended up liking how long and in depth it was. In the age of sound bites, I found it refreshing to dig a bit deeper.

    Before I read the article, I ignored the title, because I'd heard good things about the article. But but I must admit that this concept of 'not having it all' as it was represented in the article, is on a certain level comforting to me. I don't personally interpret it (again, as it was presented in the article...I'm well aware that the not having it all thing is often highly contentious) as meaning that you can't be engaged with your kids and have a meaningful career or high level position. I more interpret it that it's a reminder that there are some very hard choices you have to make in pursuing all that you want to do, and that you cannot always control the factors linked to these choices. I think these choices are even harder when people and relationships are involved as part of what must be chosen. When people (kids, aging parents, spouses etc) are in the balance, I think the decisions get more complex as you are balancing your needs vs. theirs, both of which are important to you. And I totally agree @cloud that the men with high profile careers that are missing out on their kids growing up aren't having 'it all' either.

    Like most others I found the second half of the article to be the best and most important part. Identifying specifically what needs to change and how is a step in the right direction. And quite frankly what all people who manage others and make decisions in workplace structure need to hear.

    What was eye opening for me was realizing that in my own small way, I'm trying to be more up front and vocal about the realities of my life as a working mother. And I've seen it have positive impacts on my boss (who's a man 10 years younger) as well. I can see that he is slowly carving out more time for his family and leaving his work at the office. He's seen through my work that you can stick to less hours and still deliver. I am lucky to have a schedule that works around my needs. But it was hard won. When my boss first became my boss, my amount of sick leave and my hours were questioned.


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