For two years, I never left the office early enough to go to any stores other than those open 24 hours, which meant that everything from dry cleaning to hair appointments to Christmas shopping had to be done on weekends, amid children’s sporting events, music lessons, family meals, and conference calls. I was entitled to four hours of vacation per pay period, which came to one day of vacation a month. And I had it better than many of my peers in D.C.; Secretary Clinton deliberately came in around 8 a.m. and left around 7 p.m., to allow her close staff to have morning and evening time with their families (although of course she worked earlier and later, from home)."Control over your schedule" might be an emergent phenomenon, as people of ability walk away from supposedly high-prestige positions over the unreasonable expectations employers have. Former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin suggests that a little legislation might be helpful, particularly where individual employers might not perceive the same pressure to offer less onerous terms of work.
In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence. I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office—at least not for very long.
I am hardly alone in this realization. Michèle Flournoy stepped down after three years as undersecretary of defense for policy, the third-highest job in the department, to spend more time at home with her three children, two of whom are teenagers. Karen Hughes left her position as the counselor to President George W. Bush after a year and a half in Washington to go home to Texas for the sake of her family. Mary Matalin, who spent two years as an assistant to Bush and the counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney before stepping down to spend more time with her daughters, wrote: “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.”
Women and men in top management positions often can negotiate flexibility, either in the number of hours worked, where they work, or how many days they work. Mid-level and low-level earners rarely have that opportunity because they have little power, and fear that by asking for flexibility they might be fired.To some extent, though, a request for flexibility resembles a signal of low ambition, the tragic and nasty reality Ross Douthat identifies in his reaction to Ms Slaughter's essay.
England and Australia have come up with a compromise that works for most employers and employees. It’s called the Right to Request Flexibility. An employee may ask her or his boss for flexibility without risking dismissal. The employer does not have to grant the request, but they are required to negotiate a compromise. If it is not achieved, the case goes to a tribunal. Employers have grown to like the law because it enables them to attract and retain talent, which saves them much more money in the long term than the cost of flexibility. James Wall, former vice president at Deloitte, calculates that it costs two to five times an annual salary to retrain a new employee, women and men alike.
Did the male breadwinners of yore, with their wives and kids waiting at home after a long day at the factory or the office, “have it all” in anything like the sense that today’s wistful working mothers seem to mean by the phrase? No, they did not: Most of them worked longer hours and spent less time with their families than today’s ideals of fatherhood would permit; many of them no doubt retired and died wishing that it could have been otherwise.Perhaps so, although those Organization Men might have been neglecting their children or their golf games so as to provide better for those children.
A more family-friendly workplace is a plausible and worthwhile goal, but the employee or public servant who is willing to sacrifice time at home in order “to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you” will always, always have a professional advantage over a peer who wants to leave at 5 PM to see their family or telecommute two days a week.In the absence of ways to identify high performers without performance tests, that may always be the case.