In the time between Anne Marie Slaughter’s article in the July/August 2012 issue of The Atlantic and now, it seems she somehow lost her own point and has fallen into the abyss of the “old boys’ network.” In her recent article in The Atlantic about Marissa Mayer (the CEO of Yahoo! who took an extremely short maternity leave—yet who also has the luxury of a nursery in her office), Slaughter attempts to defend Mayer’s action of ceasing telecommuting by stating that Mayer “is a CEO first and a woman second.” Maybe I read it wrong, yet it seemed Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” article offered a critique of the entire business and governmental world for its requirement that women deny their womanhood in order to succeed at the highest levels. Now, Slaughter defends Mayer by claiming her role as CEO must supersede her role as a woman. I cry foul on Ms. Slaughter. The whole point of feminism and the whole point of the change Slaughter claims must happen is that women, and men, are not required to be CEOs first and human beings, mothers or fathers second. Of course, the former is what capitalism requires: that humanity is ignored and that any other role we may have in our lives is in second place, if considered at all.
I agree that there are times when people attempting to accomplish something together do need to have face-time, whether at a business or in any group. With regard to telecommuting, there are studies that show people are more committed and accomplish more when they have the option of working from home. They’re motivated to do more because it means they can then move on to things they’d like to do or need to do within their own lives without the commute and clothing requirements and can move between work needs and family needs fluidly. Of course, this also means that the work day may not end, and there is a blend of work and family almost twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There are also studies that show time at a worksite includes a lot of wasted or unproductive time. The conversations over coffee in the morning about what was on television the night before, the results of a sports game or catching up on coworkers’ family lives draws time away from the productivity of work. Later in the morning, conversation may turn to where to order or go for lunch. Of course, there are abusers of any system, and there are those who work more than talk or shop online within an office environment, and there are those who abuse working from home. I don’t question Mayer’s decision to alter the telecommuting policy itself, regardless of how hypocritical it may seem that instead of telecommuting, she brings her family life to work, which may not be an option for employees at every level of the organization.
What I thought Slaughter’s original article called for was a fundamental change in how we do business and government. I thought she was critiquing the requirement that people put aside parenthood (motherhood or fatherhood) in order to lead. I wrote in the July 28, 2012 publication of Her Circle Ezine about Slaughter’s article, and still believe that there are positions that require a person to put the demands of the job before any other role in the person’s life. A soldier can’t come home or telecommute. He or she must be in the field, and must put that role before his or her role as parent, spouse or other family caregiver. The President must deal with national security, and handle emerging issues even if these call him (or her…one day!) from the sick bed of a child. There are roles and jobs the very nature of which precludes the kind of change I thought Slaughter advocated for in her first article. Aside from these specialized positions, I, too, would hope that women’s entry into all levels of government and industry would work toward increasing the humanity even within a capitalist economy. My hope remains that women and men can work together to accomplish this. As we work toward it, our rhetoric must remain constant. We cannot attempt to use the “old way of doing things” to excuse the actions of someone in a leadership position. I don’t condemn Slaughter for defending Mayer’s actions. I don’t even take issue with Mayer’s policy change itself at face value. What disappoints me is the language—and thought process behind it—that Slaughter uses to defend Mayer. Slaughter falls into a trap by claiming Mayer is CEO first and woman second, and that is the trap of the “old boys’ network,” which I thought Slaughter, along with many men and women, hoped to change.