Imagine, says Anne Marie Slaughter, a race – one person has a knapsack on her back, full of weights, and the other has nothing. Who wins? The man, of course.
That’s because women still have the bulk of “care” duties associated with running a home as well as holding down a career.
It’s not the man who receive calls in the middle of important meetings that a play date has fallen through.
None of that will change until we, as a society, she went on to add, start to place value on caring and that the role doesn’t automatically fall on the women’s shoulders.
Anne Marie, author of Unfinished Business, was speaking at the Art of Leadership for Women this week in Toronto.
Her father was a lawyer, her mother an artist who also stayed home to raise her family. However, if her mother ever said she was a homemaker, then she was dismissed as a nobody. Being an artist on the other hand gave her some clout, regardless of whether she actually sold any paintings.
When her own sons were teenagers, Anne Marie decided to take a two-year leave from her position with the Secretary of State Office. People really were puzzled by this decision – deciding she was either not that ambitious, or not that good at her job and had been asked to leave. She was systematically dismissed because she was taking on the homemaking role.
Little did they know, she jokes, that she refused to cook, sew or iron. In fact for most of her illustrious career, her husband was the lead parent, making sure her sons got to school, activities and so on. She was the main breadwinner and the one travelling.
Part of the problem she feels is that while times have changed, we still tend to expect boys grow up and become the breadwinners, and the girls to become wives and mothers, with a career on the side.
While we encourage our daughters to go for it and that they can be anything they want, we also need to start educating our sons that they in fact could become the “lead parent” and need to ask themselves if they are prepared to move and adapt with their partner’s career.
What women want today is it all - the power …. and the shoes. She challenged the women in the audience to visit a local bookstore and check out the Parenting and Leadership sections . The topics, she observed are very similar. It therefore makes sense that the skills we develop as mothers, can easily be transferred to the workplace.
Women have the management skills, but we need to develop the confidence that we have what it takes. Let’s face it, she pointed out as mothers we are used to the unpredictable, we’ve learned to go with the flow. Likewise in the corporate world, uncertainly is the one sure thing, so we are already equipped to handle fluctuating situations.
She then joked that this however was not a good reason to have children, but more that parenting was a training ground for managers.
She was an entertaining, thought-provoking speaker who was able to articulate the challenges facing women today and offered a completely different approach to changing the way we think about and value the caring role.