Why “Having It All” Is Not a Women’s Issue

Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Stew Friedman for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

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The resonance of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article is testimony to how far we’ve come since 1987, when I began talking about work and family in my Wharton School classes. Back then, many students — men and women — flat-out resented it. “We’re here to learn about business, not family,” they said. And when I started the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project a few years later, I got some strange looks, for it was odd to be a man talking about work and family at a business school known mainly for its strength in finance. “Why,” some of my colleagues wondered, “are you focusing on this women’s issue?”

But this is not a women’s issue; our increasingly shared understanding is that this is a critical social issue with great economic consequences.

And if we’re going to address it, everyone needs to have an informed point of view. This holds true whether you’re just waking up to this issue because you’re a 60-year-old male CEO whose daughter is confronting severe constraints in her ability to figure out how she’s going to fit your grandchildren into her life plan, or whether you’re a 25-year-old with no children who’s managing a 45-year-old struggling to take care of aging parents.

There are a bunch of us — mostly women, but a few men too — who’ve been tilling these fields for decades, and so there’s not much new in Slaughter’s arguments and substantive recommendations. What’s significant is the article’s symbolic value and how it addresses current intergenerational differences in attitudes and experiences. Twenty years ago the Work/Life Integration Project launched a research program, one output of which was the book I wrote in 2000 with Jeff Greenhaus, Work and Family — Allies or Enemies? We detailed an action agenda — echoed now in Slaughter’s recommendations…

[Friedman responds to each of of more than a dozen of Slaughter’s issues during the remainder of his HBR article.]

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The time has come. Just about everyone I meet — men as well as women — expresses a desire for a saner life, for themselves and for their loved ones. The need for structural and policy change is desperate. The pain of constrained choices is real, urgent, and pervasive. The tsunami of conversation in the wake of Slaughter’s manifesto (and the recent high-profile advocacy of another powerful female executive, Sheryl Sandberg) is evidence that we have indeed reached a new level of collective awareness.

We have the tools and the motivation to make it easier for people to have more freedom to choose how to live their lives more completely and contribute their talents to the world in a way that enriches us all. Let’s make it happen.

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Stewart D. Friedman is Practice Professor of Management at the Wharton School. The former head of Ford Motor’s Leadership Development Center, he is the author of Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. For more, visit www.totalleadership.org.

To read my interview of him, please click here.

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