The Atlantic

The Atlantic Says Women Can’t Have It All, But Is It Even Possible?

The Atlantic magazineThe conclusion that women can’t have it all isn’t about giving up on equality or ambition. It’s about balancing work and family—how to do it and whether it’s even possible.

Once upon a time, women dreamed of having it all—equal pay, equal opportunity, husband, kids, white picket fence and maybe even a family pet to make the picture complete. But now that, more or less, women have at least made inroads in those aspects comes a crushing blow courtesy of The Atlantic magazine’s latest issue.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, former State Department official and mother of two, reveals in the July/August 2012 cover story “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” that women can’t have everything, well, at least not all at once. And even then it’s tough. That struck a chord with young professionals—men and women—who may still cling to the belief that career, family and happiness lie ahead in perfectly ordered fashion.

For someone of Slaughter’s stature to reveal that there are, gasp, compromises that must be made along the way, well, let’s just say the bad news traveled fast. By Sunday, the piece had been recommended on Facebook 119,000 times, making it the most talked-about Atlantic piece in social media channels ever. By this morning, it had reached 142,000.

To be fair, Slaughter focuses on high-powered, high-profile women—politicians, lawyers, diplomats and the like—in illuminating the challenges of balancing a demanding career with family responsibilities. She talks of these women who start their days at 4 a.m., checking email while making the kids breakfast. Or of their time-saving strategies of punching 1:11 or 2:22 on the microwave because it requires fewer keystrokes—and thus precious milliseconds.

On some level, the stress of this juggling act can be extrapolated to working women in less public or lower pressured positions. And there are elements of Slaughter’s argument and her proposed solutions that have merit. Namely, the pursuit of the elusive work-life balance, primarily for women torn between building a successful career and being an involved parent to their children, but also for men.

Slaughter both recognizes and laments the necessity of pursuing career first (since men and women are more likely to marry later these days), then possibly stepping back or declining promotions when baby arrives and what that does to the trajectory of success.

In laying out her plan on how women in prominent leadership positions can have both career and family, she asks a lot of society, employers and perceptions. Telecommuting is one viable option, yet she fears that putting family first can be viewed as a sign of weakness or at the very least vulnerability by others in the workplace.

Which circles back to the fundamental question and dilemma: Can women have it all? Lori Gottlieb, a blogger for The Atlantic, answers Slaughter’s piece with a resounding, unapologetic “no.” Women can’t, men can’t. End of story. Apparently, that struck a chord with readers also, as that post is nearing 2 million recommendations on Facebook alone.

Is the race to having it all a losing game? What does it take to make career and family work?