Annie Marie Slaughter's article in the current Atlantic titled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" had a familiar ring - hauntingly so.
More than two decades ago, the Harvard Business Review published an article titled "Management Women and the New Facts of Life," which made many of the same arguments that Slaughter does - most notably that the structure of organizational life makes it nearly impossible for a woman to have both a high-powered full-time career and to feel fully involved as a mother. The writer of the HBR article happened to be my mother, Felice Schwartz, and what she wrote prompted a media firestorm. The New York Times published an article suggesting that my mother had advocated a separate "mommy track" for women who were willing to trade lower pay and less advancement for more flexible schedules and time with their families.
The Times article missed the larger point my mother was making. What women needed most, she had argued, was more flexibility from organizations in balancing family and work at different times during their careers.
Nearly 500 articles were written about the controversy, including a New York Times editorial that pilloried my mother as an enemy of women's progress and a stalking horse for sexist CEOs. This was ironic. My mother had founded an organization, called Catalyst, way back in 1962, to advocate for women in business, and seventeen years later, the Times itself still had virtually no women among its top management.
More ironic still was the story of my wife Deborah, one of a handful of female editors at the New York Times Magazine in the early 1980s. Following the birth of our first child, Deborah asked for the opportunity to cut back to working three days a week. The Times reluctantly agreed, but in return took away her accrued seniority and her health benefits.
So here we go again. Anne Marie Slaughter was the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department under Hillary Clinton. Slaughter left after two years because she felt her children needed more of her, and she needed more of them. The critics were quick to strike.
"The first set of reactions, with the underlying assumption that my choice was somehow sad or unfortunate, was irksome enough," Slaughter writes. "But it was the second set of reactions - those implying that my parenting and/or my commitment to my profession were somehow substandard - that triggered a blind fury. All my life I'd been on the other side of this exchange."
The key to making it possible for women (and men) to effectively combine work and family, both Slaughter and my mother agreed, is for employers to provide more options about how, when, and where to do their work.
Perhaps it's no great surprise that I've taken up this cause myself during the past decade at The Energy Project. We work with companies to shift their paradigm from getting more out of people by pushing them harder, to investing more systematically in meeting their needs, so they're freed, fueled, and inspired to bring more of themselves to work every day.
At the heart of our work is the conviction that it's not the number of hours employees invest that determines the value they create. Rather it's the quality and focus of energy they bring to the time they're working.
Give people time to renew - not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally - and the evidence suggests they'll get more done, in less time, at a higher level of quality, more sustainably.
The problem is that most employers still accord far more value to those who work long and continuous hours at the office and put obstacles in front of those who seek more flexibility.
Three of the top four executives at the Energy Project are women. Two have young children. Both spend more time working from home than they do from the office. I don't know how they work when they're out of the office although I assume they take care of family needs whenever that's necessary. What I do know is that they're both incredibly productive, and they deliver extraordinary value to our company.
The research strongly suggests that when you treat people with trust and respect, they perform better and feel more engaged.
This transformation won't happen until senior leaders make a fundamental shift away from the deeply ingrained view that more, bigger, faster for longer is better, and let go of the myth that face time is a useful measure of productivity and commitment.
The solution for employers and employees is a new value exchange: autonomy for accountability. To the extent possible, treat women and men like adults by allowing them to define when, where, and how best to get their work done. Then hold them accountable solely for their results.
That's the sort of win-win my mother had in mind.
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