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Editorial
How To Get To True Gender Equality
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Johanna Pulgarin via Ellevate Network
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How do you define #TrueEquality?

This past summer, at a special luncheon in Shearman & Sterling’s New York City offices, Sallie Krawcheck (Chair of Ellevate Network and CEO of Ellevest) and Anne-Marie Slaughter (CEO and President of the New America Foundation) tackled that question, speaking on the topic of gender equality in both career and home.  

Well-known for her article Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, published in the Atlantic in 2012, Anne-Marie received both praise and backlash for her comments on how spouses should share the responsibilities of parenting at home if women seek to ever reach true equality. Anne-Marie has since focused her beliefs on changing social norms to not only expect women to work harder as breadwinners for their families, but to expect men to step up as caregivers at home, as well.

When asked about the phrase that became infamous after the release of her article, Anne-Marie says that she no longer refers to “having it all” when it comes to work-life balance.

“That article was never about me; I have had every opportunity and I have had a great run. It was about, if even someone with all my advantages -- money to pay for help, a sympathetic boss, etc. -- if I have to make a choice and can’t make it work, then we need to radically rethink how we’re treating all the other women who have fewer advantages and are getting knocked out.”

Anne-Marie believes that the major shift that needs to happen in order to start truly treating women as equals is to begin talking about caregiving. More women than men are, and are expected to be, primary caregivers for their families. However, even the men who try to find a balance with their spouses when it comes to child or family care find themselves at a disadvantage.

“Those men who are stepping up and being equal caregivers, or as my husband and I call it, ‘lead parents,’ they are being held back, too. So I talk about it now in terms of gender equality, and how we should value care as much as we value competition.”

Valuing care in the same way we value competition in the workplace is a new idea, more common now with a generation who grew up with two working parents rather than a father with a full-time job and a homemaker mother.

“I changed my thinking,” Anne-Marie said. “If in 2012 you had asked me about my parents, I would’ve told you my father is a lawyer and my mother is a professional artist. I would not have said to you that until I went to college, she was a homemaker. Now… I would also say that her work of investing in our family, in raising me and my two brothers, all three of us as productive citizens -- that family is my foundation. There is nothing that I’ve done on my resume that I could have done without that family.”

These are the big ideas at the center of Anne-Marie’s book, Unfinished Business. She believes in a society that will value “investing in the next generation, as well as caring for those who cared for us.” She believes that when we started encouraging girls to aspire to careers like their fathers had, we went too far in devaluing their mothers’ roles as caregivers.

“We tilted so far in the direction of women wanting to be like their fathers… that we then devalued the work women have traditionally done. That’s individually wrong, morally wrong, and, socially, very shortsighted. We are not valuing the investment in the children who will keep us safe, who will be competitive, who will care for us.”

As with much that holds women back from reaching gender equality, the problem is institutionalized. In their discussion, Sallie shared, “In a report from Glassdoor Economic Research, compared to 14 countries in Europe, we in the US rank least generous in 5 out of 6 categories of employee benefits including parental and maternity leave.” She then asked, “How can we expect to reach gender equality when the work force and public policy doesn’t support the ideas you have?”

For Anne-Marie, the solution can start simply: “We should stop talking about maternity leave. We should talk about parental leave.” When fathers receive less time to bond with and care for their newborns, it places a devaluation on family care over the work men do. So, Anne-Marie believes, offering the same amount of parental leave for both new mothers and fathers is a stepping stone to equality in the workplace.

Anne-Marie is optimistic on the changes we’re seeing so far. In this year’s political campaigns, we’ve seen family leave on all the major parties’ platforms – something we have never seen before. Anne-Marie says this is because we’re starting to see family leave as an economic issue, caused by the “stress of absenteeism” and the loss of talent when an employer does not provide flexible work.

At the end of it all, Anne-Marie’s hope for true equality stems from the belief that our expectations should be the same for both men and women, both in their workplace and at home.

“It used to be that if [a woman] told me she was taking time out for her children, my reaction was, ‘That’s a pity.’ Now I look at somebody who says… ‘I’m a teacher,’ or working in any of the care professions, and I say that is really important work. And I mean it. We’re not going to get to gender equality until we all mean it, and until we mean it for men as well as for women.”

That balance is what has been missing in the conversation about gender equality. It is one thing to say we should value women as caregivers as much as we do those who are in the c-suite. But, the real game-changer will come when we value men in those caregiving positions as well.

“If we expect women to compete, we need to expect men to care. We need to expect it absolutely equally. We need to expect men to be full time caregiving fathers the way we expect women to be full time breadwinning mothers.”

To watch the full video of Sallie Krawcheck's conversation with Anne-Marie Slaughter -- in which they talk about gender equality, the New America, the roles of Millennials in the workforce, and more -- click here.


A version of this article was originally published by Ellevate Network.

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