A powerful, persuasive, thought-provoking vision for how to finish the long struggle for equality between men and women, work and family
When Anne-Marie Slaughter accepted her dream job as the first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department in 2009, she was confident she could juggle the demands of her position in Washington, D.C., with the responsibilities of her family life in suburban New Jersey. Her husband and two young sons encouraged her to pursue the job; she had a tremendously supportive boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and she had been moving up on a high-profile career track since law school. But then life intervened. Parenting needs caused her to make a decision to leave the State Department and return to an academic career that gave her more time for her family.
The reactions to her choice to leave Washington because of her kids led her to question the feminist narrative she grew up with. Her subsequent article for The Atlantic, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, created a firestorm, sparked intense national debate, and became one of the most-read pieces in the magazine’s history.
Since that time, Anne-Marie Slaughter has pushed forward even further and broken free of her long-standing assumptions about work, life, and family. In the twenty-first century, the feminist movement has stalled, and though many solutions have been proposed for how women can continue to break the glass ceiling or rise above the “motherhood penalty,” so far no solution has been able to unite all women.
Now, in her refreshing and forthright voice, Anne-Marie Slaughter returns with her vision of what true equality between men and women really means and how we can get there. Slaughter takes a hard look at our reflexive beliefs—the “half-truths” we tell ourselves that are holding women back. Then she reveals the missing piece of the puzzle, a new focus that can reunite the women’s movement and provide a common banner under which both men and women can advance and thrive.
With moving personal stories, individual action plans, and a broad outline for change, Anne-Marie Slaughter presents a future in which all of us can finally finish the business of equality for women and men, work and family.
Anne-Marie Slaughter is currently the President and CEO of New America, a think tank and civic enterprise with offices in Washington and New York. She is also the Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. From 2009–2011 she served as director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State, the first woman to hold that position.
The only reason I didn't give this book 5 stars is because I wish it would've played around a bit with the typical self-help book style. It sticks to the formula. BUT THAT SAID, this is the single best thing I have ever read/heard/imagined when it comes to work/life balance. It should immediately eclipse all other books on the subject. Everyone should read it. Male or female, kids or not. It has so much to say about what we need to change in our culture to help people lead more fulfilling lives as workers and caregivers.
As someone whose entire life was upended after I made the "choice" to stay home with my children, I've spent several years just grinding my teeth in annoyance when people talk about work/life balance. It never applies to me or most single women, most poor women, etc. This book acknowledges that the discussion should include poor women, women of color, women in same-sex relationships, etc. Which is huge.
It also has ACTUAL ADVICE and actionable steps for your family and workplace. The list of dilemmas for young childless couples to discuss is so good I want to give it to everyone. I just want to give this whole book to everyone.
I made my decisions about my family and career thinking I was being smart and thoughtful but I was completely ignorant and naive. Many of us fall into this trap. This book at least starts us on the way out. I literally cannot recommend it enough. Buy it immediately. I am not joking.
The BEST work-life balance book you will ever read! Everyone needs to read this! I've read many books on this topic, as well as books geared toward working women: Lean In and I'd Rather Be In Charge. As much as I agree with women needing to be more assertive in the workplace, to advance their careers and step up to the table regardless of competing obligations, I still felt that these books did not address the realities and complexities of having a family and competing priorities for ALL PEOPLE.
Anne-Marie Slaughter hit the nail on the head when she writes about the inherent problem with "having it all." Women have been told that they can be anything they want to be and if they only work hard enough, plan their life in the right way, be more assertive, and have a 50-50 relationship with their partner they can achieve the perfect balance and feel completely satisfied in both their personal and professional life.
These are only half-truths. There are problems in our society that make work-life balance very difficult, if not impossible, and only by changing what we as a society value will we be able to see real change.
As a society, we value competition over care. It's why we ask people we've just met what they do for a living instead of what they are passionate about. Men are criticized if not downright emasculated when they take time out from work to take care of their family. We feel like we can't talk about family in the workplace - from being elusive regarding time off to take care of children - taking a sick day for a child's doctor visit - and speaking about family as the kiss of death in an interview. We grossly underpay workers in caregiving professions - from daycare to eldercare.
Workplaces are still very inflexible when it comes to meeting the needs of it's workers. Employers tend to measure an employee's value by face time rather than quality of their work, i.e. the worker who works more hours vs. the quality of their work. Workers who request flex time or part time to meet family obligations are deemed less valuable, even though they are still qualified and engaged. (Their IQ and skill does not depreciate because they have children). Even workplaces who offer time off for caregiving, tend to discriminate based on gender - fathers aren't expected to take as much time off, if any, for the birth of a new child.
So, how do we combat the problem with competition over care?
1. Change the way we speak about caregiving, and what gender is responsible, and what we value. Stop treating fathers as superheroes for doing the same work a woman is expected to do. Respect everyone's life choices based on what works for them.
2. Start having conversations with your employer - especially men - about flexibility. Do not be ashamed that you have children or other care obligations. The more workers that start asking, the more employers will benefit from retention and higher quality performance.
3. Start asking for changes in legislation. The United States is 1 out of 2 countries who still do not require paid family leave. We need to have the legal right to ask for flex and part time work to meet family obligations. "Reform elementary and secondary schools schedules to meet the needs of a digital rather than agricultural economy, and to take advantage of what we now know about how children learn."
When I told a friend I was reading this book, she said "That's the kind of book where I just read the magazine article about it instead." And I think Slaughter would have been better served if she had written a series of high profile articles instead of a book as it felt like she was trying to boil an ocean by covering so many different aspects of the challenges in work/life balance (or as she prefers to call it "work/life fit").
I think she makes excellent arguments on how we need to value the work of caring more as a society. It's not just caring of our children, it's also care for aging parents. With most households needing two income-earning parents, many families now have to outsource the care of these two crucial age groups, and we're doing everyone a disservice with the low pay that carers earn.
She also makes some interesting points about language. For example, if one parent can focus full-time on care, then she recommends not calling them a stay-at-home Dad or Mom. Think about terms like "lead parent," or "anchor parent" (but I draw the line at her suggestion of "full-time parent" as just because I'm at work doesn't mean I've suddenly stopped being a mother).
Where I have the biggest divergence from Slaughter is on her exhortation for people to plan ahead for every potential challenge:
"If you want a life in which you can experience the joys and rewards of both a successful career and a loving family, you must plan ahead. As early as possible, you should try to anticipate the times in your future when you'll want to focus intensively on your job and the ones when you'll want to focus more on caregiving responsibilities. To the extent you can, tailor your professional choices accordingly." (This is just one example of many times when she talks about the need to plan ahead.)
She gives some scenarios for young couples to discuss before they get married/have children. While I think it's great to have a broad conversation about how you view things (talking about who would be looking after any children we had was certainly helpful when my husband and I were preparing to get married), I think that getting into a detailed hypothetical "will you defer your promotion so I can take mine?" or "you've been told that your daughter is too disruptive for summer day camp and cannot stay, all the other quality camps are full, what will you do?" kind of discussion is just creating unnecessary angst. You can't possibly know all the different factors that both of you will be weighing up in 5 - 10 years time, nor the type of support you may or may not have. What you believe earlier might have changed significantly later, yet Slaughter is encouraging you to make lots of decisions about the type of career to pursue now based on these discussions.
Slaughter also seems to be excessively negative about all the things that "could" happen. For example, towards the beginning of the book, she lays out what she calls are "half truths" about women and careers. One of them is "you can have it all if you marry the right person" and one of the reasons Slaughter says this is a half truth is that you might get divorced! You cannot realistically control or prepare for all eventualities. I fear that people reading this book would either feel overwhelmed and give up on building a career (something Slaughter says she wants to avoid) or that it would just add to their stress.
So, an important contribution to the conversation about work and our lives, but, for me, an uneven delivery. Thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book to review.
I was surprised to see the average rating of 3.95 for this book. Clearly I must have missed something that other readers picked up on. For me this was a disappointing read.
1. I could not sympathize with Anne-Marie Slaughter's big epiphany moment. She left a job as Dean of an academic department at Princeton for a job in Washington, working for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She and her husband decided not to uproot their two preteen boys and so she commuted on a weekly basis. And then - o, surprise - she found out two things. One, it's really hard to keep a family together when one of the two parents is gone for most of the week. Two, it's a lot easier to have the flexibility you need to take care of family stuff in the academic environment than in a corporate or government service environment. This dual realization shocked her to such an extent that she wrote an article called "Why Women Still Can't Have It All", which became the most read article in the magazine in which it appeared. All I can say is "Gee- ya think?!".
2. There is no research, no original data in the book. Essentially what happened is this : Ms. Slaughter wrote that article, it created much commentary, and on the strength of it, she became a sought-after speaker. So she traveled around giving speeches on the topic of work/life balance, and most of her insights seem to be based on comments or questions after her speeches. The ones that were not inspired by those encounters seem to be inspired by her own experiences or those of her friends and acquaintances. I can't help thinking that this is a very narrow and biased focus, a very self-referential way of seeking knowledge. Her experience with her own husband and children is a sample of 1, and after a couple of anecdotes the informative value of this sample is exhausted.
3. I felt that the author was a bit heavy-handed in the slinging around of her credentials. Halfway through the book I felt like saying : "I got it! You were a law professor in a prestigious university. And then Dean of a School of International Affairs at another prestigious university! And then you got a prestigious job for a Secretary of State!". The constant refrain of "After I became Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School..." became almost comical.
4. The author seems to be proud of her mentoring of younger colleagues, but when I read the list of questions that she suggested you ask people you work with, I found them intrusive. I would bristle if someone purporting to "mentor" me asked me questions about how my husband and I would prioritize our respective careers once the first baby came along. There is nothing wrong with a young couple discussing these questions - what rubbed me the wrong way is that a third party would get involved.
So what is Anne-Marie Slaughter's idea and thesis? Well, as the title of her article said : Women Can't Have It All. (But did any woman really believe that she could have it all? Surely no one was naive enough to think that?). The current work environment needs to be changed to adapt to the needs of working mothers and fathers, of young millennials, of single mothers... More telecommuting, more flexibility, paid maternity leave.... nothing we haven't heard before.
When I read a nonfiction book, I’m looking for new information or a new way of looking at the old. In Unfinished Business, Anne-Marie Slaughter delivers both.
I discovered this book through an interview Slaughter did with More Magazine. “My father was a lawyer," she says. "I’m a lawyer. Women wanted to have financial independence, so we took on our fathers’ jobs. In the meantime, we devalued what our mothers did. But without our mothers (being caregivers), our fathers never would have been able to do what they did. How on earth do we expect women to do (both)?”
This comment hooked me, because as a sixty-something feminist, I have been puzzled by the anger of young women toward feminism. In Unfinished Business, Slaughter describes the heavy burden feminism has imposed: “For young women, what is most attractive about the ‘lean in’ message is that it tells them that the fate of their careers and families is within their control. That is the kind of message Americans, particularly, love...The problem, though, is that it’s often just not true.”
The young mother thinks she can have it all if she just works harder. However, she discovers this isn’t the magic formula, and faced with overwhelming pressure, she says no to a promotion or high-level career. “There has to be something better than Lean In or Get Out,” Slaughter says.
There's something Slaughter calls "the competitive mystique,” wherein we idolize top producers for their drive and focus while ignoring the other 50% of life behind the scenes. Because we're not asking ourselves one important question: who provides care for this rock star at home? Who cares for his children, or his ailing parents? Who facilitates his moves from one city or country to the next? The reciprocal to his hard work and dedication is caregiving--which we don’t consider part of the equation at all! The work of this book is to alert us to this oversight.
There’s a natural, useful tension between “care and competition.” Mankind needs both in order to survive and succeed. Yet we dismiss the former as if it's a self-indulgent vacation.
As Slaughter puts it, “…the deep assumption in the American workplace is that the fast track is the only track. Up or out...(favoring) the workers who can compete that way, the ones who have no caregiving responsibilities or who have a full-time caregiver at home. It also means that as a society we lose massive amounts of talent.” As corporate America seeks an answer to its "woman problem," it must consider this.
Slaughter warns that the bias against caregivers isn’t a women’s issue alone. “...the person in a couple who stays home will be valued less than the person who goes to the office…the ‘women’s problem’ well-meaning executives want to solve is actually a care problem.”
For the most part, birthing and raising new humans (i.e. keeping our species from extinction) is considered a woman’s personal whimsy, a hobby she should do on her own time. And we still limit men, assuming they prioritize work over family. “The biggest unconquered world open to men is the world of caring for others. If we tell boys that they can break down centuries-old barriers and be pioneers of social change, suddenly they have a mission, an inspiration, and a new kind of role model to emulate—a new definition of a good man.” More unfinished business.
There is much more to this important book. Unfinished Business could be a policy primer for upcoming politicians and civic leaders. If we took the author’s guidance to heart, we could remake America (and the world) into a place that values caregiving as much as commerce, to the benefit of every human on the planet. It’s a worthwhile read and I recommend it.
Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family is a well-crafted, thought-provoking book that everyone should read. Men, women, parents, aspiring parents, managers of parents, colleagues of parents, policy-makers, and people with living parents. And everyone else too.
Anne-Marie Slaughter does an amazing job of unpacking the complexities of caregiving, gender identity, workplace expectations, and cultural attitudes toward working parents. As a society we under-value caregiving for children and elders, underestimate the potential productivity of working mothers as employees, disregard fathers as equally capable parents, and fail to provide adequate support and flexibility for childcare. This is detrimental to families, to women, to men, to careers, and actually to companies as well. Slaughter makes a strong case for how our thinking and policies both need to change, and suggests important questions that couples considering marriage and children should ask each other. She also admits that her generation of feminists have wrongly looked down on women who take a step back from careers in order to care for children, and suggests that we think of career paths as a trajectory with ups and downs rather than a straight trajectory.
I related a lot to this book and think there is a lot of value here. I appreciated chapters about how our ideas of masculinity need to change to accommodate men being capable caregivers and household managers. She discusses a number of complex and sensitive issues and does it well, of course bringing policy into the conversation. She posits this as a bi-partisan issue (which I think it is) and one that we must grapple with as a society. Highly recommend! And seriously, I think people who want to have kids one day should read this, because we weren't prepared to navigate some of the complex issues that arise.
I thought there was so much great advice in here. I am a working woman with children so I could relate with almost everything she said in here. I think this is a must-read for both men and women, but I fear that only women will read it--which was one of her points--only women focus on work/life balance--at least publicly. She answers some of the very valid criticism of her Atlantic article--that she only focuses on privileged white women in the book. She includes more stories and more data. I really liked it and would highly recommend.
Modern America faces a labor crisis that is both practical and existential. Even as new kinds of work are rapidly being created, we can’t adequately educate and fully employ the workforce we already have. Worse, we’ve created a system where elites have almost exclusive access to intellectually challenging and meaningful work opportunities, with everyone else scrambling to produce enough income to make it through the month. To get out of this mess, we need smart people to craft new social and political frameworks that can lead to actionable solutions.
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family represents a sincere but only partially-successful attempt to fill this need. Her main critique of American work culture is that we don’t value caregiving the same way we value competitive, income-earning work. “The person in a couple who stays home will be valued less than the person who goes to the office,” Slaughter writes. “We value people of either gender who invest in themselves more than we value people who invest in others” (78-9).
Arguing with passion and intelligence, Slaughter proposes that we pivot away from competition and toward care, taking on “obstacles created by the combination of unpredictable life circumstances and the rigid inflexibilities of our workplaces, and lack of a public infrastructure of care” (14). But normal folks “can’t do it on our own,” she insists. “We have to exercise our collective political power to change the system” (231). This is an ethical and admirable goal.
I agree with almost everything put forth in Unfinished Business. Slaughter’s thinking helped me articulate some of the finer points of my current lifestyle, and for that I’m deeply grateful. I’m a college-educated guy in my late twenties who happily took myself out of the workforce to support my fiancé and aging mother at home. This situation also affords me what I consider a better lifestyle than I’d have if I were working. At this point in my life, I have no career-based ambitions, but plenty of personal ones. I’m not sure if this makes me one of the men Slaughter depicts as being “strong enough to take risks, break the mold, and prove themselves in new roles [that] can define a new frontier,” but I do know that staying home keeps my family and me happy and healthy (145).
I also know that my reading of Unfinished Business is colored by the choices I’ve made and the home-based life I hope to keep living into the future. But taking these personal biases into account, I still believe there are some objective ways in which Slaughter falls short of her purported ambitions. The first of these is her inability to escape her position as an elite careerist. This is a fault openly acknowledged by Slaughter, but that doesn’t change the fact that her book addresses the problems of elites more than the problems of working class or poor Americans.
Unfinished Business is crowded with discussions about how to effectively “make partner,” land a “C-suite” executive job, or gain a promotion. Buzzwords abound, but there is comparatively little discussion about the problem faced by the vast majority of struggling Americans: getting a job in the first place, and then keeping it. It’s hard to fault Slaughter too much for favoring the world she comes from, and she does make a few noble attempts to highlight the needs of non-elites, but the majority of her workplace examples and career advice are geared toward elite citizens and institutions.
There also doesn’t seem to be a place in Slaughter’s vision for people uninterested in pursuing a career. Her thoughtful discussions of caregiving are focused on professionalized forms of childcare, teaching, and eldercare. Within these constraints, Slaughter does a great job of outlining problems and proposing solutions. She also argues that it’s legitimate to a be full-time parent, but is less vocal when it comes to the difficult problem of attaching a concrete economic value to that decision. Slaughter claims that “broader life ambitions are just as important as your career ambitions,” but what if I don’t have any career ambitions (192)? What if I don’t want a job, and prefer to stay home, tend the garden, and makes things easier for rest of my family? Does that make me a valuable caregiver, or a leech? I’m not being coy here––this is a live question for me, one that I haven’t been able to answer with any certainty for more than two years of self-chosen unemployment.
Despite advocating for a better “work/life fit,” Slaughter still buys into one of the great lies of modernity: that “professional” work should be locked in a binary, oppositional relationship with the activity of experiencing and enjoying life (186). Beyond jobs and caregiving, there’s a whole world out there to be explored, and a new virtual world being created every instant. Even an efficient and flexible balance between office and home doesn’t leave much time or energy for taking a walk, playing a game, or taking a moment to be grateful for just being alive. If we’re talking better worlds, I want one where those moments matter as much as anything else, if not more.
My personal views on careerism aside, I realize that the vast majority of Americans both want and need a vibrant career. How do we help those people? While I sincerely hope that most of the ideas and propositions in Slaughter’s book become mainstream, there are three glaring flaws in her perspective that severely restrain her reach.
Arguably, the single best way to support caregivers across this country (professional and otherwise) is to decouple healthcare from employment once and for all. America’s lack of nationalized healthcare for all citizens is an embarrassment, but apparently not one that Slaughter would have us rectify. She lays out a 12-point “infrastructure of care” that would undoubtedly provide more support and flexibility for families and caregivers (e.g. affordable childcare and eldercare, paid leave, financial and social support for single parents, etc.) (232-3). None of these solutions, however, would do as much good for America’s most vulnerable citizens as comprehensive, universal healthcare. Yet Slaughter is silent about this prospect, begging the question: How serious is she about fixing the inequities she so plangently rejects?
This question becomes even more critical when considering another of Slaughter’s blind spots: technological unemployment. It’s possible that Slaughter doesn’t see technological unemployment as a credible long-term threat to the livelihoods of American citizens, but there’s no way to know because she ignores the subject altogether. Slaughter writes optimistically of the “care economy,” which is rapidly expanding and will provide a sizable chunk of new jobs in the coming decades (240-4). But she doesn’t acknowledge the possibility that many of those jobs could be automated shortly after their inception, nor does she demonstrate how we can provide the training workers will need to stay ahead of the technological curve.
This failure to take up what is a primary concern for many forward-thinking economists is another indication of Slaughter’s elite myopia. Though this trend may not hold in the coming decades, technological unemployment usually decimates jobs from the bottom up, disadvantaging the least educated and skilled among us. It may not matter much for people with doctorates and law degrees (yet), but technological unemployment is a very real problem for scores of workers, right now.
Since Slaughter refuses to address technological unemployment and universal healthcare, it’s no surprise that Unfinished Business doesn’t advocate for a guaranteed basic income. Yet thinkers like Martin Ford have recently suggested that a basic income is the best (and perhaps only) way to keep America from becoming more of an oligarchy than it already is. A modest basic income would provide financial flexibility for families, allowing lead parents to stay home with their kids, or at least work one or two fewer jobs. It would also grant creative people a foundation of security, making it easier to develop a new interest, take classes, or jumpstart an entrepreneurial enterprise.
Universal healthcare, technological unemployment, and a basic income are titanic issues that will require sweeping action and a willingness to challenge the American status quo. Slaughter doesn’t want to go there. She would rather nibble around the edges, throwing more money at superficial programs without addressing the underlying causes of American stagnation. Slaughter is an accomplished and compassionate woman, and Unfinished Business is a valuable book, but America needs more. If we stop here, we’re left in a situation where big change is off the table, but big talk is easy. If we commit to care, America “can be exceptional once again,” Slaughter says, trotting out the most overwrought line in modern American rhetoric (247).
Perhaps, but unexceptional solutions won’t get us there.
This review was originally published on my blog, words&dirt.
Slaughter opens her book with a personal anecdote. In 2010, she accepted a prestigious opportunity to work for Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C. This job meant that she would be a commuting parent, living in Washington during the week and spending the weekends at home with her family based in Princeton. Slaughter accepted the job with the ostensible support of her husband and her two sons, aged 10 and 13 at the time; however, she began to feel that her children were paying a heavy price for her absence. Slaughter ultimately decided to leave the job, which raised a great many questions for her as a career-focused, achievement-oriented feminist. This book attempts to tackle those questions.
Slaughter begins by analyzing what she calls "half-truths women hold dear" and offering more realistic versions of these "feminist mantras." To "You can have it all if you are committed enough to your career" Slaughter adds, "and if you are lucky enough never to hit a point where your carefully constructed balance between work and family topples over." To "You can have it all if you marry the right person" Slaughter adds, "[if that person]...is willing to defer his or her career to yours; you stay married; and your own preferences regarding how much time you are willing to spend at work remain unchanged after you have children or find yourself caring for aging parents." To "You can have it all as long as you sequence it right" Slaughter adds, "as long as you succeed in having children when you planned to; you have an employer who both permits you to work part-time or on a flexible work schedule and still sees you as leadership material; or you take time out and then find a good job on a leadership track once you decide to get back in, regardless of your age." Clearly, having it all is at least as much about luck as it is about choices one makes.
Slaughter also makes an interesting point about the dichotomy she labels "care vs. competition." In contrast to popular views of work vs. family as a women's problem, Slaughter posits that our society tends to value competitiveness and self-development over caring for others. Women and men both suffer as a result; women are often relegated to caregiving roles that earn less respect, and men are often expected to step up at work at the expense of time with their families. For example, while men are often offered paternity leave on paper, they are viewed negatively by their companies if they take advantage of this offer. And women who adopt more flexible roles at work so that they can meet caregiving responsibilities at home are often automatically viewed as no longer on the leadership track, despite the fact that they may have skills and abilities which could make them valued leaders at work at a later date when their family responsibilities become more manageable.
Slaughter suggests a number of ideas for how men and women can rethink their various roles and their contribution to work-family issues. She also has a number of ideas for workplaces, some of which sounded more idealistic than practical to me (lots of vacation time to avoid burnout! Lots of flexibility about when, where, and how much you work!). But it was interesting to imagine a world in which professional and caregiving responsibilities could be seamlessly integrated rather than in opposition to each other.
All in all, this book spoke to me more than Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead did. While Slaughter's suggestions can be critiqued and may need a great deal of tweaking, they represent an interesting attempt to address conflicts that many of us are experiencing between our professional and caregiving roles.
The book tries to do too much. It is an analysis of the current situation for working mothers, a self-help book for younger graduates, and a political manifesto. As many other reviewers have noted, the content would have been clearer as a series of essays.
For all its flaws, the book is a worthwhile read. And it raised a lot of questions about our ideas about care and work. For example, it gives many interesting questions to ask your partner early on:
Can you handle it if I earn more than you do and have a more conventionally successful career? Are you secure enough to accept the denigrating remarks that are likely to come your way from other men, but even more frequently from women, in-laws, and even your own parents?
I wracked my brain and couldn't come up with many books where the male lead is a working dad or stay-at-home dad, shouldering the better part of household responsibilities, and still be seen as manly (whatever that means) and desirable.
My thoughts exactly. Nothing in here that's new, esp in the wake of the famous Atlantic article, but the argument is both broadened and more refined. Slaughter (what on earth is the feminist argument for keeping that name?) is not the most deft writer, but her skills are solid. The structure of the book wanders from the personal to the social to the economic, and it tends to repeat. There are a lot of good ideas. What if parental leave were something everyone had to opt out of, instead of choosing to take? What if instead of mothers and fathers, good workers and sketchy workers, we saw caregivers as something our economy also needed and stopped creating a dichotomy between competition and care... or rather, what if we made caregiving ALSO competitive. For example, in Finland, getting an advanced degree in teaching, which you need, is highly competitive. If you get one, though, you get paid a lot. Whereas in America, we make it easy to become a teacher. And then, while it's not easy to BE a teacher, we don't pay them much.
We operate, here, under the assumption that because anyone can become a teacher, social worker, mother, day- or eldercare provider, all care providers are created equal and should be paid the same. We even assume that the rewards of such activities are innate and should not be compensated financially. We also assume that people who take time out of work to pursue caring for family members have somehow weakened their capacities in the work arena.
And yet, as Slaughter points out, most business consulting organizations are predicting a shortage of workplace expertise in the next 25 years... she notes that the women who have left work at the peak of their careers, between mid-level management and C-level status, the ones who should, in the next couple of decades, be rising to C-level roles, are in fact still around. They didn't disappear in a puff of air. They only went home for a couple of years to care for children and parents. They would probably like to come back once the crisis years are over. But no one is letting them. If they try to return, they are often consigned to roles that bore the snot out of them and do not tap their "workplace" expertise, while the shortage carries on. Dumb.
Another major point is that if women are going to rise to C-level positions or their equivalents in other fields, we have to recognize that men with families have mainly got there with a full-time support spouse/parent. If we want to do the same we may need to see that *this is what it takes* if we are to have families. IE, there needs to be an anchor parent in the home... if not full time, then at at least someone with a subordinate, more flexible career who is the one to meet with teachers, take more sick days, travel less, etc. And if the woman has the rockstar career she and her husband (assuming a hetero relationship, which neither Slaughter nor I assume), may have to accept that the husband figure is the one to earn less, have the less prestigious career and/or stay home. This is currently hard for both men and powerful women to accept culturally but it will need to change if we are going to be realistic about advancing women. Equal isn't equal when it comes to the wellbeing of the kids. Because someone has to put them first.
Here are some other good points:
Regarding men who say that they, too, cannot "have it all," because in order to have a big career they also must sacrifice time with their children, she notes:
"...The men who have chosen to make that trade-off over the decades have almost always been supported in that decision by wives or partners who have either been full-time or at least lead caregivers.... That means that a rising corporate executive, consultant, academic, surgeon, or lawyer has been able to devote himself to his career in the knowledge that a loving parent is caring for his children and doing everything possible to ensure that they flourish. As much as he may wish he had more time to spend with them, or lament that his relationship with them is much more distant than he would like, he at least knows they are in good hands. Moreover, the entrenched social structure of women at home and men in the office reinforces his choice. He is doing what he is supposed to do: supporting his family by providing for them financially and allowing his wife to provide for them physically and emotionally. "A rising career women with a family does not face the same set of choices. Relatively rare is the husband who agrees to stay home or be the lead parent so that his wife can advance her career. He may support her completely in her career goals, but not to the point of giving up or significantly compromising his own. But someone must take care of the children, or aging parents, or a sick relative. In the most frequent case, instead of being faced with the choice that ambitious career men have traditionally faced--working 24/7 and seeing little of their children but still having them cared for by a parent--an ambitious woman faces the choice of working 24/7 and having neither parent available for the children. Even if she can afford around-the-clock childcare, a big if, **that means no parent is reliably available for school plays, sick days, homework help, and late-night hard conversations about everything from being teased at school to adolescent love.** [Emphasis added, and YES YES YES I might add, having felt that for me, this is at the core of the mommy wars, and is often the missed point. WHY do so many women who work and hire nannies fo all this even HAVE children, I've wondered, since this last sentence is what parenting IS? If you don't want to do it (applies equally to men, BTW), what is the point of becoming a parent?] "That is a far harder choice. In that situation, knowing your presence might help a child, parent, or spouse thrive and that you are stuck in a meeting, or working another late night, doesn't feel like choosing to sacrifice "time with your family," something you wish you could have but are denying *yourself* [emphasis added], for the sake of your career. It feels like sacrificing your loved ones' wellbeing for your own aspirations."
That's right. It's insupportable.
Slaughter advises young women to build an anticipation of setbacks into their career plans. Start with a "realistic assessment of your own capabilities; if you need eight hours of sleep, surviving on five hours a night is not a sustainable life proposition. If you are not the world's most organized human being, trying to a run an office and a household at the same time" is not likely to work. "If you are a creative person, cramming every minute of every day with activity... will burn you out quickly. "A key thing to anticipate is the possibility of a tipping point, a situation in which what was once a manageable and enjoyable work-family balance can no longer be sustained--regardless of ambition, confidence, or even an equal partner. .... My schedule was often so finely calibrated that a kid's ear infection could send a week's worth of appointments toppling into one another like dominoes... But overall the satisfactions outweighed the stress, and still do. "[But] Something happens, and the carefully constructed balance suddenly tips. For many women, that something is the birth of a second child.... or a child gets sick; an aging parent needs care; a partner gets a promotion requiring him or her to travel extensively; a marriage comes apart; or a move requires leaving a vital family support structure behind. Alternatively, the woman herself moves steadily up the career ladder until the next job... requires [more than her partner is able or willing to fill in for]."
Then there's the desire to actually be home with your child--the maternal instinct, which ambushes some women. "Owning up to this desire feels like coming out of the closet" for some career women.
"Just as you hit the peak years of your career, when leadership opportunities are most likely to come your way, you discover that in many ways it is even more important to be available as a parent to your teenagers as it was when they were very little."
[CP: My experience exactly--I had to laugh upon hearing an interview with the author of Cutting Teeth, in which she asserted, with no evidence, that the toddler years were the most difficult. Ha, I thought. Just you wait.]
Oh, and on how stupid it is that the workplace demands hours instead of actual project-based productivity. "Microsoft employees... reported that they put in only 28 productive hours in a 45-hour workweek--a little more than 6 hours a day [I note that Sweden has largely gone to a 6-hour workday with mostly positive results]. Futurist Sara Robinson found the same thing: knowledge workers have fewer than 8 hours a day of hard mental labor in them before they start making mistakes."
It's no wonder that so many immigrants are flocking to European countries instead of to America. It's not just our closed borders. Due to the support for childcare and other care, it's actually easier to rise out of poverty in those countries and to become a contributing member of the middle class sooner. This is even true in Canada, which "has a higher percentage of foreign-born citizens than the United States does, yet Canadians are twice as likely to move up the social ladder as Americans are. And though multiple factors are correlated with social mobility--segregation, income inequality, schools, and family structure--the ability of families, supported by communities, to maintain a stable and caring environment for children, plays a very big part."
She argues we don't have to and should not do everything these other countries do, but she also points to studies showing that in America, across all classes, motherhood is the single biggest predictor of poverty in old age.
This was such a great read and while it may sound way idealistic, I believe we owe this way of thinking and behaving to the good of humanity. I loved slater's viral article and this book focuses and calls for better participation, of everybody : men, women, businesses, governments and policy to promote healthier attitudes towards work and home to give everyone a better opportunity to live more fulfilling lives. Highly recommend if you think seriously about unpaid care, the care economy in general and the ever elusive work-life balance.
A welcome addition to the pantheon of "can women have it all, no actually, can they?" books, Slaughter's is one of the few to consider that a) not all women are in as privileged a position as the author and that b) perhaps the answer isn't that women just aren't trying hard enough. Instead she advocates for a broader rethinking of how we treat work and its place in our lives - arguing that we must value caregiving as much as we say we do, and in so doing will transform the work/life balance for men and women alike.
Anne-Marie Slaughter was a director of foreign policy in the Obama administration and left in order to take a more flexible job and care for her kids. That choice, and the countless conversations she had in the years after leaving and writing on the subject of “work/life fit”, as she calls it, left her thoughtful.
In this book, she investigates the "unfinished business" of the women's movement that began with suffrage in the early 1900s like a true policy analyst (but with a more human tone and engaging personal narrative). First she develops a clear thesis of what the problems are and why they are problems, then she continually asks why things are the way they are at deeper and deeper levels until she finds a root cause, and then she proposes solutions.
The main issue she sees is a systematic undervaluing of care and caregivers (whether male or female) in our society. This is a problem because "care is an essential human instinct, drive, and activity.” Caregivers, paid or unpaid, are the “custodians of human capital”... “the nurturers of humanity itself.” The root cause is debatable but seems to be that care is difficult to measure and compensated in ways other than money, yet money is what we have come to equate with value.
In addition to being undervalued, care responsibility is unequally held by women. This is a problem because we are missing out on a huge pool of caregiving talent from men, in much the same way as the labor force used to miss out on the talent pool of women, and because she finds that the majority of men and women want both to invest in themselves and pursue individual goals and talents, AND to be able to invest in family or community. The root cause here boils down to “women and men are still profoundly in the grip of traditional gender roles when it comes to men.”
The solutions she proposes range from individual actions like changing our language and embracing different ways of doing things, to changes managers can make in the workplace, to policy needs like affordable childcare and eldercare and paid family leave for women and men.
I particularly enjoyed this book because I identify with Slaughter’s life circumstances and interest in government and policy, but I think anyone would find Unfinished Business to be insightful and well-written.
I read this book because I want to be able to support my adult children with ideas and information as they meet the challenges of coordinating caring and working in their families.
The book vacillates between being an exhaustive analysis of a complex topic and a self-help guide. The analytical component could easily have evolved into a think tank policy document. The self-help would have been more useful as a magazine article or short e-book. Anne-Marie Slaughter is an obviously brilliant woman, but despite frequent anecdotes about her own family and others, the book seems best fitted to whiz kids like her. I was disappointed by her persistent emphasis on "making it to the top" without displaying any obvious awareness that most people wouldn't want to achieve the dizzying heights, or simply couldn't. For a small coterie of successful and ambitious graduates of the most competitive American universities, both female and male, it provides some useful advice about the sharing of caregiving.
The book expands on Ms. Slaughter's article in The Atlantic: "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." Her premise was that women could not yet achieve parity with men while having children and healthy family lives. Biological evolution is indifferent to fairness, but our culture may certainly evolve toward her prescription for a world in which men and women are equally enthusiastic and active participants in caring for children, the elderly, and the sick or disabled. That remains to be seen.
Most of us just want the opportunity to find a level at which we can help support our family and contribute to the greater good, in roles that are won by merit without reference to sex, race, or social class, and to be fairly rewarded for that work. Participating is more important than winning.
Read Harder Challenge Item: Read a book about feminism or with feminist themes
This book tackles the evergreen topic of interest in feminist circles of "balancing work and family." While it treads a lot of familiar ground -- the cost to a woman's career when she prioritizes care-giving, envy of the Scandinavian countries that have this all figured out, etc. -- I liked that it framed the dilemma as a problem of "undervaluing care," and that it called on both women and men to change these cultural values. I also appreciated that it held women to task for valuing caregiving behaviors and tendencies in men, challenging readers to root out their conscious or unconscious biases when it comes to the assigning worth to an individual based on earning capacity.
I also appreciated that the book at least attempted to lay out some potential solutions to the problem, although I fear it may rely a bit too much on asking the government to take over the work of caregiving in various ways. It also purported to be a book for "all caregivers," but it really did focus on women (and men) in professional fields, giving the barest mention of working class families before once more ignoring their particular needs and challenges for the rest of the book. So it remains a book primarily for the "more privileged" workers -- those who have some kind of sick time, those who may have the option for flexibility and some leverage with their employers, etc.
As useful as this book can be in challenging caregivers and potential caregivers to give serious thought to how they might combine work and family life, I can't help but feel the people who REALLY need to read this book are the business owners and the bosses, those who can make a real impact on changing work culture one company at a time.
So good! An intelligent and well-balanced discussion on work/life balance. I love how she eschews a one-size-fits-all solution and instead talks about how this could work given a range of circumstances.
I thought the reframing of the question on work/life balance to re-evaluate how much caregiving should be worth is really smart. Slaughter also gives a broad understanding of the term caregiving, applying it equally to caring for a child, an aging parent, a spouse, a friend or whatever other type of loved one. Too often the discussion on work/life balance focuses on working mothers, and as a single, child-free woman, I'm glad to see my own experience finally included in this discussion.
Slaughter as well gives equal importance to working dads and distinguishes between making men equal partners in the home and having them help with household duties (the first accords them responsibility and a sense of ownership.) She also points out that same sex couples are unable to rely on traditionally held social notions of the gendered division of labour, and so their experiences demonstrate how bread winning and caregiving can be distributed equitably between both partners regardless of social assumptions about gendered capabilities.
Lots of food for thought in this book, and Slaughter raised a lot of interesting points. Hopefully this book sparks discussion on these topics and makes us all re-think how we see careers, competition and caregiving.
This book was a slog to get through, even with it only really being 256 pages. The last 71 are all acknowledgements, notes and index which makes the book look longer than it actually is.
I feel the author had a good point that they wanted to make, however after reading the book, this was not the format for it. I felt the book was full of padding and was extremely repetitive. After only the first 76 pages (the first 30% of the book), I was ready to toss the book after reading the words "Half-Truths" what seemed like a billion times. The points she was trying to make were lost in the muddle of repeating them several times in the same chapter and the way book was trying to be longer than it truly should have been.
I feel that if she had done a book of essays, it would have been much better and more positively received. She made great points and I loved how she looked at the male side of things as well, stating how men need to spend times with their families too, not just women.
While the core of the book is descent and has great information, it feels like a novel that has an extra 100+ pages of padding description that pull away from the story they are trying to tell.
This is really two books: a look at the balancing of work and family, as well as care and competition, in the U.S., with ideas on how to improve the situation; and a how-to for young people, mainly educated women, about to how to do a better job of it. Although, unlike many writers, Slaughter does make room, from time to time, for men and for less educated people, she still focuses on her expected readership: educated women. The major way in which she considers the less educated is in considering the greater valuing of the caring professions.
Slaughter's emphasis on the care-competition spectrum is the best part of her book. Her anecdotes, particularly those about herself, were, for me, the worst part of the book. But her writing, which is good, is skimmable.
This is a valuable addition to this literature, especially for younger readers. But as an older man, I found it valuable, too.
Anne-Marie Slaughter provides the much-needed, hard-hitting response to Lean In — one that is, notably, grounded in reality. Sheryl Sandberg’s call to women to be ambitious in the office was respectable, but 99% of American women aren’t going to become Silicon Valley billionaires, and “leaning in” doesn’t actually do anything to change the miserably biased, inflexible conditions that the vast majority of working mothers find themselves in. Slaughter is calling for a social overhaul, not a capitulation to the patriarchal corporate order. Unfinished Business is grim, and it further makes me doubt my ability or desire to have children, recognizing again and again how deeply penalized working mothers are, but it is necessary. This should be required reading for all American mothers and all CEOs.
4 stars not so much because the book is particularly well-written, but because it made me think about the value of care, about my own attitude in the workplace and about choices in life. This book has inspired many discussions with loved ones who have (young) families.
Easy read, recommended for anyone interested in knowing more about work-life balance.
Maybe this was more groundbreaking when it came out, but I thought a lot of these points were "old hat." That said, the main messages are still very valid and something that demand cultural and policy changes. I don't think it was a book that was as necessary for me to read as, say, every old white man in the country.
Авторка пропонує чесно зізнатися, що кожен з нас (і чоловіки і жінки) чимось жертвують, обираючи кар’єру чи сім’ю. Якщо ми обираємо і те і те, то жертвуємо ми в обох сферах чимось, але ми також маємо шанс і багато отримати. Як це зробити - читайте у книжці.
I recently listened to a podcast episode from ABC's The Money called 'The Sex Factor' which talked about how equality for women can go backwards even as the economy grows, that economics is sexist and that the systems we work in were not made for equality - rather we still live Victorian-era ideas of supporting men in the labour market and women's places at home. I can see this today in the way that coworkers, male and female, assume that pregnant coworkers will be the main caregivers; the fact that despite the success of women in middle management, the majority of senior management are men; and the way that our broader society continues to talk about caregiving as a woman's role.
Although American-centric, Unfinished Business goes to the root of the problem in developed countries around the world: - we live in a society where care isn't valued - not the same way that other kinds of work are - we treat care as if it is a reward in itself, and doesn't need further remuneration - people with resources are able to pay for care, for nannies and after-school care, but many in our society are held back from career and economic progression because that infrastructure isn't available to them.
Slaughter discusses the unacknowledged value of care, which leads to the absence of women in the workplace. Without women in the workplace, and in other places of power, like government, we lose support for cultures of diversity and flexibility and support for minorities. Slaughter makes a particularly powerful point about the need to vote for more women - to have better representation of our society in legislative bodies - not only for representation but because according to research, "when women have a greater standing, men share the floor more equally, adopt the language of care for children more often, endorse more generous safety net support for the poor, are less likely to interrupt women in hostile ways and provide more positive forms of support and encouragement to female speakers". It also touches on the importance of defining this issue broadly as a care problem, and not just a women's problem: "what children need above all is love, stability, stimulation, care, nurture, and consistency...[and] these are things that can come from an array of caregivers".
When I read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, I was unimpressed by what the book had to offer - it spoke to those women already at the table, was a confidence booster, a little drinking shot of power. But it skipped over the point that so many women can't even get through the door of the building, let alone sit down at the table. I know Sandberg wasn't writing to such a broad audience, so reading Unfinished Business was like picking up the other half of a story meant to empower. I think this book is a great pairing to read together with Sandberg's, to get two different perspectives of career progression - from a individual and system perspective. 3.5 stars.
Anne-Marie Slaughter and I share initials and a love of alliteration. I appreciated how she cut deep into how society pegs and punishes women, pitting up against each other as weak or strong depending on how long we stay in the workforce. Moreover, the message that comes up time to time is not just that work is eating into family - it's that it's eating into all of our other life and we need to re-prioritize and shift our culture.
"Gradually I allowed myself to break free from an entire set of deeply internalized assumptions about what is valuable, what is important, what is right, and what is natural."
"Not to mention the general folly of assuming your life will go as planned."
"Though the consequences are far worse for poor women, still in relative terms the pauperization of motherhood at the bottom [of the income scale] parallels the penalization of motherhood at the top."
"Challenging employers, politicians, and ordinary citizens to explain why exactly it is more important and valuable to compete with one another than to care for one another forces a hard and searching look at what we say but do not do, what we assume but won't admit."
"But this biologically dictated dance of cooperation and conflict is consistent with a wide range of sexual behaviors that fly in the face of what we so often consider natural. In short, we have lots of primal urges, men and women alike. Which ones come out on top has just as much to do with economics and society as biology.... So anyone who claims to know what is 'natural' is simply revealing his or her own biases."
"The point is that if you gather the knowledge to do it once, you become the designee for that task, a status that only expands the more knowledge you gain and the more expert you become."
"Euphemisms like 'opting out' or certainly 'dropping out' send a deep cultural message about how we define success and failure while also obfuscating that message in ways that make it very hard to challenge. Using coded language allows employers, journalists, and social critics to claim to be progressive while still marginalizing work-family conflicts as women's issues rather than work issues and weak women's issues at that."
"Refuse to play the competitive game, find out what people care about other than work. When you meet someone try not to ask what do you do within the first 5 minutes. Ask him what he's interested in, what his hobbies are, what he's passionate about in life. Signal by the way you talk that you value more than how people earn an income."
"Having different jobs, hobbies, and passions will give you a portfolio of diverse skills and experiences that will help you learn and advance in all the different stages of your life. Pick a dream job that you would like to hold one day and analyze all the different abilities and experience it requires....Instead of gaining those skills by moving up through a preordained series of rungs on a corporate ladder think about the many ways you could acquire them by doing different jobs at different times."
"Real crises do come up and it's important to signal that you can be counted on in a crunch."
After a slow start, I pretty much inhaled this book in 24 hours, so I may need to go back and read it again. But the reason I inhaled it was that I agreed with so much of what Anne-Marie Slaughter was saying.
YES, the way we think about work and careers needs to change. YES, both Competition and Care need to be equally valued - neither is more or less than the other. YES, both men and women are suffering because of the way we think about work and life right now - the former because they end up having to sacrifice their careers without having signed up to do so, the latter because they don't get to spend enough time with their families.
One important point I took away from the book was to think about one's career as a series of events that differ in intensity, like interval training - sometimes you may need to slow down to care for a loved one, but at other times your partner may be able to play the lead care-giver role and you can go all in. Another interesting point that resonated was on "work-life fit" - a highly customized fit for each employee in the workplace based on their family / community needs. Each employee should be able to negotiate this for themselves, but the workplace needs to provide the space for them to do so (especially by ensuring that they are not penalized for doing so.)
Much of the book is written from an American perspective, of course. In other countries we take for granted a lot of the things that Americans are still struggling for - paid leaves (sick or otherwise), paid maternity leave, etc. I also felt that, despite the author's best intentions and attempts to be inclusive, the book is still written from a very "privileged white-collar white woman" perspective (though some of the solutions she suggests towards the end of the book are societal and not workplace-dependent).
Overall, a book that expanded the way I think about inclusivity at the workplace - helping me understand that it's not just about making things easier for women. We need to expand the scope of care-giving from just women and children to all adults who have care-giving needs towards their families and communities. Because Care is equally important and we need to improve the value it is currently given.
In 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as Secretary of State Clinton’s director of policy planning, wrote an article for The Atlantic entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In the article, she discussed the difficulties she experienced in working a highly demanding job while meeting the needs of her sons; she chose to leave the State Department and return to teaching at Princeton (a far more flexible, though still demanding, job) so that she could be near her sons at a critical point in their development. Her article ignited a heated and passionate national conversation. Ms. Slaughter received many responses (including my own open letter) and spent thoughtful time with them. She then created a vision for moving forward as a nation of people who must fit both work and care into their lives. That vision is articulated in her new book, Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family.
Unfinished Business provides the tools we need to create change, which always flows from the inside out. We cannot create a new society from old ways of thinking, and Ms. Slaughter provides a paradigm shift—an internal shift in the way we view ourselves, the work of caring for other people (children or older relatives or sick friends), and the work we do to earn a living and manifest our gifts in the world. What she is doing in this book is something we desperately need—consciousness raising. For until we see how and why we are getting in our own way, we won’t be able to navigate new terrain. I am deeply grateful for this book, as a mother, a writer, and a feminist. However, I believe the book downplays the political elements of the paradigm shift it describes.
The Necessary Truth in Unfinished Business
Ms. Slaughter begins by debunking our myths, including the idea of “having it all.” She unpacks the half-truths behind our cultural beliefs, such as “You Can Have It All If You’re Just Committed Enough to Your Career” and “You Can Have It All If You Marry the Right Person.” She acknowledges the ways in which these ideas—and others like them—are true, and then she analyzes the ways in which they fail us by asking us to do the impossible. She also addresses half-truths about men—beginning with the idea that care is a “women’s issue.” In speaking to and about men, Ms. Slaughter recognizes them as caregivers and workers, and discusses the ways in which our cultural attitudes dismiss this fact—and what we can do to remedy it.
Unfinished Business considers everyone—working mothers, working fathers, heterosexual couples and gay couples, single people caring for a sick friend or an aging parent, people who work in Silicon Valley and people who work at Starbucks. At the core of the discussion about work is a discussion about care—how we devalue it in word and deed because it has been seen as “women’s work,” and how it is instead a human issue. Ms. Slaughter asks us to examine our language, our deeply held beliefs about gender and care, and our need to let go of the old to make way for the new. I love what she has done here, as much of what she says resonates with my own work/life path, as well as my experiences as a caregiver in a society that devalues caregiving.
Ms. Slaughter’s message is truly transformational: in valuing care, we create a culture that allows people to fit work and life together rather than pitting them against one another. She emphasizes that she also values competition, and that it is the fit that matters—care and competition must be valued equally if we are to reach equality at home and at work. I love this message, and I love it that she applies it across boundaries of class, acknowledging that work and care play out very differently for middle and upper-class women than for poor and working-class women.
The Unfinished Business in Unfinished Business
While the paradigm shift Ms. Slaughter provides is vital, her discussion of how we apply this shift relies heavily on corporate decisions. She acknowledges a political element to change—even going so far as to list several things that would require political action (including high-quality, affordable daycare and paid family and medical leave for both women and men). However, most of her discussion about change dwells on the marketplace, discussing corporations that have successfully implemented policies that allow for work/life flexibility, and that value care. Corporate policies are indeed part of the solution, but to depend on the free market and look for a trial and error approach in which employees negotiate for their needs ignores one of the basic problems in our current political climate: some who run corporations, and who set policies, are very much against the paradigm shift that Ms. Slaughter proposes. This is a political, not just a corporate, reality—and must be faced on political ground.
So it has been since 1976, when President Nixon vetoed the Child Day Care Standards Act—this veto followed another torpedoed attempt at nationally affordable childcare, the Child and Family Services Act of 1975. If we don’t acknowledge the history of our previous attempts to value care as a society, we are doomed to repeat it.
My biggest concern about Unfinished Business is that, while the book acknowledges differences in class, it fails to fully consider the ways in which institutionalized sexism and racism create an unequal marketplace. Ms. Slaughter does acknowledge this situation—for example, the ways in which middle and upper-class women who employ housecleaners are relying on poor women, thus perpetuating inequality—but stops short of stating that some corporations simply won’t be flexible. The employees who bear the brunt of this refusal are the ones who can least afford it and have the fewest life choices—poor women of color, many of them mothers.
Unfinished Business is a political book—it claims feminism, addresses the concerns of all working people, and asks us to see the next phase of the women’s movement as a men’s movement. While acknowledging the political dimension to these changes, however, it puts most of the weight of a paradigm shift on cultural attitudes and corporate policies. To create a firm foundation for change, we need a third element—one that Ms. Slaughter names, but presents as a bipartisan question rather than an unequivocal fact.
Although change requires us to push political boundaries, before we can do so we have to transcend personal ones. Unfinished Business is a fabulous handbook for doing just that—I hope you’ll read it and recommend it to anyone who is struggling with the dilemma of working while caring for others.
Slaughter provides a thought-provoking challenge to Americans, showing how the next cultural revolution must confront the unsustainable way Americans work; the pace, hours and places we work. She proposes that in order to have more congruity between work and life, companies will need to change their working policies to be more flexible to accommodate both men and women as primary caregivers of children and elderly. She also challenges women to put more faith in men’s ability to perform domestic duties and caregiving responsibilities, and to sacrifice the “superwomen” identity for a more equitable distribution domestic economic roles. Slaughter speaks from her own experiences, as well as providing anecdotes of people reacting to her popular article in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” She includes criticism and praise of the article to highlight the complexity of speaking about the ways families balance their work and families. I liked the way she included practical ways we can socialize and speak to our bosses and spouses to create change in the workplace and home, which would place more emphasis on American’s concern for family health over productivity and success. Furthermore, she repeatedly shares data that people are better, more productive workers when provided with more agency and flexibility. I would recommend this book for all men and women who are wondering how to make family and work fit and who are frustrated with the message that working to an unhealthy degree to prove yourself is the only way to be successful. This book is for people who want to redefine what success in life entails, not just to climb the ladder the fastest way possible, but rather to do so with intentionality, caring for people closest to them.
3.5 stars. Sensitive to criticism that her widely read 2012 article in the Atlantic was written from a place of privilege due to her race and class, in this book Anne-Marie Slaughter tries to detail what she sees as the key issues facing the broader female workforce that prevent equality from being achieved. The essence of her argument comes down to the "care economy" and need for more flexibility for both women and men. The book serves as an antidote of sorts to "Lean In." Slaughter makes the argument that sometimes compromise is inevitable and that the arc of a career may involve periods of leaning in and leaning out. The book has a lot of great research and discussion about the vocabulary, hidden queues, and work place norms that continue to shape how we view men, women, and work.
I would be interested to hear others' thoughts, but I did feel that this book was trying to do a lot - part research, part autobiography, part career advice, part call to action - and that the various strands did not completely come together. I found myself wondering a number of times throughout what the main takeaway(s) of the book were meant to be. I agree with other commentary I've read that this book may have been better positioned as an article or series of articles. However, like Slaughter's previous writing, "Unfinished Business" has a lot great content for discussion and certainly has a valuable place along side other writing on work-life balance.