Leadership, Work and Family
From the very beginning of the White House Project, our goal was not just a woman president, but using the presidency (the only place you can convince Americans that women don’t already lead) as a way to propel a critical mass of women into leadership at all levels of government and industry. Why? Because the changes that we most need for women and men; the changes we most need to bring new values and ideas to the table; the changes that the recent much read article by Anne-Marie Slaughter now sees are needed in work-family policy will only be possible when enough women are at the tables of power.
Contrary to the image of early second stage feminism, work-family policy is where women like myself began. I was in Iowa in the seventies and lobbied for affordable quality childcare. Later, as leader of a large division of women’s programs at Drake University, I started classes for dual career families and followed by educating Iowa companies about alternative work arrangements including job sharing, permanent part time work, compressed work weeks…all with prorated benefits. Now and then we needed ways that women and men could share the work inside and outside the home.
I was ahead of the times, but I got a second shot with The White House Project in the last decade. In our trainings across the U.S., we were honest with the diverse young women who invariably wanted to know what to do about their children while they pursued, or when they secured, a political office.
The women political leaders we brought in to encourage them always shared their own solutions. And I shared my lived experience as a mother of five: that “yes,” it did require sacrifice, but no permanent changes would occur in work-family policy if women were not in leadership in sufficient numbers.
Now a political appointee, Anne-Marie Slaughter, has put this out in the world using her own life and family as an example. She left her top position in the State Department to go back and be there for her children, and is re-telling women the bad news that we can’t have it all. But she is also saying what our White House Project message has been for fourteen years to 14,000: If you want to permanently make these changes, then go lead in massive numbers to change these policies.
The good news is that we are not alone in seeking these changes. Now more men are interested in trading money for time with family. They want a different life – one with more family time and fewer stressors. What does this shift do? It lightens women’s burdens and helps create a true partnership in the home. We have the opportunity for allies as never before in gaining traction for work-family policies
But the message can’t be that we are making these changes because women can’t have it all; we need to make these changes so that our country CAN have it all. Our state governments can mandate paid family medical leave and build healthier citizens. And contrary to popular belief, our corporate institutions can make these changes and remain profitable not just financially, but in building communities that are healthy and safe. Isn’t this why companies exist and why we incorporate them?
It’s wonderful that a woman leader at the top has begun this conversation anew, and it’s time for women and men throughout the U.S. to carry it forward. But the surest way to get there is framed by the oldest slogan in our WHP life: Go Vote, Go Run, Go Lead, Go Girl!
Marie C. Wilson is the founder and President Emeritus of The White House Project.