There’s an article making the rounds that has people talking - in a big way. And it should. “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” written by Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic, discusses many reasons why it’s difficult for women to hold high positions in the workplace due to the delicate balance between a work life and a home life. We went through many emotions reading the article - especially as we thought about all the women (and men) whose lives have been completely transformed when they move into a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).
Women and men who used to wonder how it could all work (or even if it could ever all work), and then find that it can - when the culture is reshaped to manage the work, not the people. As Lisa Belkin stated in one of her response articles, Why the Workplace Doesn’t Work for Parents, we’ve been shouting in the wilderness for years about a new paradigm that shakes all of this up. Whether you’ve heard of ROWE or not, we hope you’ll agree with us, Slaughter, and Belkin about the need for change in how the work environment is operating today. Throughout her article, Slaughter mentions three “half-truths” that women tell themselves and one another when they talk about both being successful in the workplace and having a great family experience. She relays that many women think that they can have it all if they are committed enough, if they marry the right person, and if they sequence their life in the right order. She goes on to argue that none of these “half-truths” really work, or even make a lot of sense, in the quest for the perfect work-life balance. She laments that many women have to choose work or life in the end, and her picture of the workplace is pretty bleak. And then we found the lines in the article that explain it all:
I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.
This is exactly what we realized many years ago when we met each other and spewed all the things that were "wrong" with the work environment into each others’ ears. It’s the system that’s become dysfunctional - and we weren’t going to sit back and live within a system that strangled the ability to live the kind of lives we wanted to live...and as a result, undermine our ability to deliver to the organization we worked for. Selfishly, yes, it was the thought of wanting to change the system to benefit our own lives that came to mind first. And quickly, we realized, we were creating a strategy and process that had the potential to affect thousands, millions, of lives around the globe - and that became our mission. This is where Slaughter’s thoughts come in again - on the ways society needs to change in order for women to “have it all” and accomplish a near-perfect work-life balance.
“Change the Culture of Face Time”
Work needs to get done, and long hours are sometimes unavoidable, Slaughter argues. However, she raises the question of office hours and their effectiveness. She goes on to say that changing the “default rules of the office” is absolutely necessary to put women on the path to having it all. We couldn’t agree more. By focusing on results instead of the default office rules, employees can focus on achieving their work goals, and still have time to spend with family. The following quotes are from employees in organizations that have made the switch from ‘office hours’ to results with ROWE:
“It’s great to be in an environment where the clock and ‘seat time’ don’t equate to your performance level.” “ROWE has redefined what a good worker is from face time to results.”
“Revaluing Family Values”
Slaughter says that, unfortunately, employers have a tendency to privilege workers without families over those with families, albeit subtly. Employers often place priorities on the things non-family employees do in their free time (say, training for a marathon) over what an employee with a family at home does (that is, taking care of children). There are obviously lots of situations like this out there - where one set of employees is subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) negatively judged for how they spend their time. She argues that changing these assumptions is ultimately up to us, and we agree. It’s not about who has the better socially acceptable excuse for how they choose to spend their time. By valuing the time of every employee, and valuing what all employees have to do outside of their work, we’ve seen the positive impacts in productivity and customer satisfaction in a variety of industries. Is training for a marathon more important than raising two children at home? As long as results are accomplished, it shouldn’t be that way, nor vice versa. Every employee’s time is valuable.
“Redefining the Arc of a Successful Career”
We often think of a career path as being a ladder: start at the bottom, and work your way to the top. This complicates matters for women who want to have children. A woman can either delay her start of the ladder, or jump off somewhere during the climb. Instead, we should think of a career path as “irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation…” This is very true. Again, though, by allowing employees to focus their efforts on attaining results as opposed to spending time in the office, even the stair-step career path can be altered. It may not be necessary to step off the path at all if employers focus on eradicating presenteeism and old-fashioned ideas about how work gets done. Take this quote into consideration from an employee in a Results-Only Work Environment:
“ROWE makes it easier to manage all areas of my life, including being a mother, wife and career-oriented person. I feel like I am better at all these roles I play since I can manage them all as I need to.”
We wonder, if all women and men were able to operate like this - like adults with common sense - if we’d even be talking about how to step on and off ladders, ramps, or runways. From what we’ve observed over the last several years as people’s lives have completely changed due to work culture shifting in a ROWE, we think not.
The Piece That Needs to Get Louder
It’s obvious that we agree with Slaughter’s points, and they align with our values and the reasons we set out on our own mission to reshape work environments around the world. There’s one piece she mentions, though, that needs to get much, much louder: The issues Slaughter raises here aren’t just for women; they’re issues for men as well. If a man wants to “have it all,” he is forced to choose between his career and his family as well. Slaughter says she’s signing up men for the cause. We wholeheartedly believe that men can strive for the same thing Slaughter is arguing. There’s no reason that all workers–high-powered professionals and shift-workers, male and female–can’t have fulfilling careers and family lives. Let’s face it. We’re all suffering under an outdated, outmoded and out-to-lunch system that’s inherently broken. Anyone who’s given up what they love, who they love or even worse, who they are on the career ladder may too soon find out it just wasn’t worth the climb. For men or for women. We’ve seen the future of work and know what it takes to get people there. You with us?