Practical analysis for investment professionals
02 December 2014

Anne-Marie Slaughter: Gender Equality Is “Not about Women. It’s about Care”

On 18–19 September, CFA Institute will host Alpha and Gender Diversity 2017 in Toronto, the latest in its series of Women in Investment Management events. Attendees will have opportunities to discuss gender diversity, foster professional development, and meet their peers from other regions in North America.

Anyone who follows the conversation about the gender gap in leadership is by now familiar with Anne-Marie Slaughter’s seminal article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” and the intense national debate that ensued. The 2012 cover story went viral and took on a life of its own. But, as she told the audience at a recent event hosted by Women United, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women and children in the greater Charlottesville/Albemarle, Virginia, community, what she wrote was nothing new: we’ve been “stalled” since about 1990, with a dearth of women in top jobs.

Slaughter, who is president and CEO of the New America Foundation, a public policy institute and idea incubator based in Washington and New York, says one of the major reasons why we are not making progress toward full equality is “precisely because we are still framing this as a women’s issue.”

It’s not a women’s issue, she says, but a caregiving issue, and to move forward toward real equality, we not only need a “men’s movement” where caregiving is respected and valued, but also women have to shed their preconceptions about masculinity.

“If you look at Sheryl Sandberg’s book (Lean In), if you look at my article, if you look at Wonder Women by Debora Spar, and countless others, it’s always about women and it is addressed in groups of women,” she said. “We can’t get there if we keep framing it that way. Because when we frame it that way, we acknowledge something we should actually be challenging: we acknowledge that it is women’s primary responsibility to be the caregivers as well as being the breadwinners.”

We Have a Care Problem: We Don’t Value Care

The place to start, then, is not with women, but with care.

“If you are a woman without caregiving responsibilities, there is very little that is going to hold you back,” she said. “There is still discrimination out there, there is still sexism out there, yes, but by and large (and the statistics bear this out), women without caregiving responsibilities are doing better than men in high school and college and better than men going into the job market. They are ascending rapidly — as long as they are allowed to focus entirely on their careers.”

It’s not quite so rosy for the women — and men — who take time out from their careers.

“The flip side is that women who are doing spectacularly who then work part-time, take time out for caregiving responsibilities (that could be for their children, their parents, a spouse, or an extended family member), that’s where they run into trouble because when they go back into the job market, or even if they stayed in but worked part-time, they are no longer on the leadership track,” Slaughter said. “Indeed, if they dropped out, they have a hard time getting back on any track at all. So it’s the caregiving. Think about what happens to men: If men take time out, work part-time, stop working, they have exactly the same problem. It’s not a gender issue. It’s that we don’t value the caregiving, and indeed when men do it, not only are they told they are not committed to their careers, there’s even a question as to whether they are really 100 percent fully a man.”

The Two Great Forces of Human Nature: Care and Competition

The “turning point” in her thinking, Slaughter said, was when she came across a quote from philanthropist Bill Gates. “As I see it, there are two great forces of human nature: self-interest, and caring for others,” he told the crowd at the 2008 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (Note, he did not say “women’s nature,” or “men’s nature,” but “human nature.”)

Sigmund Freud said something similar, she added: “He said what makes us human are love and work.”

“Work is where we advance our own goals, it’s competition,” Slaughter said. “We call it breadwinning. The competition is built right in . . . But the other half is care for others.”

So we need to think through this notion of love and work or care and competition (self-interest).

“Let’s not talk about women,” she said. “Let’s start with the idea that all human beings have both drives . . . Some people are way over on the competition side and some people are really natural nurturers . . . and most of us are somewhere in between . . . most of us simultaneously want to advance our goals, but equally we are caring beings and that is every bit as important. And that’s the starting point, to think: ‘What if the work that women have traditionally done is every bit as important as the work that men have traditionally done?’ And it’s every bit as important when women do it, and when men do it.”

The question then becomes how to create a world in which everyone can give expression to both sides of their nature, in whatever combination that might be.

First, we need to think of our careers in the way that athletes approach workouts, as “interval training” — multiple phases of intense work and less intense work, Slaughter said. Second, we need to create more flexible workplaces.

“As a leader, I tell everyone who works for me: ‘Family comes first and if family comes first, work will not come second.'”

Why We Need a Men’s Movement

After she wrote The Atlantic article, Slaughter said a second “penny dropped” and she realized that what we really need is a men’s movement.

“Many men wrote to me and they said: ‘You know, I don’t know why you think we have it all.’ And in some ways I pushed back, I mean, come on! Nobody’s writing Lean In for men, or The Second Sex about men . . . But what these men were saying is: ‘Do you really think I want to work the way I have to work? You think I don’t want to be at my kid’s baseball game or performance at school? You think I don’t want to be there in times of crisis? You think I want to be on a trip and not able to be there? I’ve been socialized a certain way, I have to be a breadwinner, this is the role that was created for me. Just as it used to be that caregiving was the role created for women, I would like a very different world, too, but I can’t figure out how to get there.'”

Slaughter said she also noticed something else, which is that if you look at women CEOs, a third to a half have husbands who are either not working for pay or have very flexible schedules.

“I don’t know any male CEO who has a family who is the primary caregiver. No chance,” she added. “So why would we expect women to make it to the top under different conditions?”

Husbands as caregivers is not talked about nearly as much as Lean In, Slaughter said. “But let me tell you, when you look at the women at the top, you realize their husbands have had the courage to break the male role just as much as pioneering women had the courage to break the traditional female role. In my view, those men are pioneers, they are heroes, they are strong, they are secure.”

She concluded by saying that we have to do two things to help bring about real equality: One, we have to change men’s lives as much as we changed women’s lives, and two, women have to give up some of their own sexism.

What does she mean by that?

“We have to recognize we define masculinity just as much as men help define femininity. So it is up to us to see men who are willing to take on new roles not as ‘house husbands’ in this way that we talk about it that implies they are not doing what a man should do, but rather as strong, secure, caring men,” Slaughter said. “But the other thing we have to do is let go of our own preconceptions . . . We have to treat [men] in the home the same way we expect them to treat us at work.”

Bottom line? “It’s not about women. Because women who don’t have caregiving responsibilities are in a different place, and men who do are in a different place. It’s about care and competition. It’s about valuing both sides of our nature equally, and the work that both require, equally. And it’s about recognizing those two sides of us and valuing them equally, whether women do it or whether men do it.”


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Image credit: ©AP Photo/Princeton University

About the Author(s)
Lauren Foster

Lauren Foster was a content director on the professional learning team at CFA Institute and host of the Take 15 Podcast. She is the former managing editor of Enterprising Investor and co-lead of CFA Institute’s Women in Investment Management initiative. Lauren spent nearly a decade on staff at the Financial Times as a reporter and editor based in the New York bureau, followed by freelance writing for Barron’s and the FT. Lauren holds a BA in political science from the University of Cape Town, and an MS in journalism from Columbia University.

3 thoughts on “Anne-Marie Slaughter: Gender Equality Is “Not about Women. It’s about Care””

  1. Excellent post. Gender equality isn’t about the money either. As one of the key people involved in establishing the 40% quota for women on Norwegian boards put it:

    I can highly recommend the use of quotas if you combine equality policies with modern, gender-neutral family laws; parental leave and fathers’ quotas; full coverage of early childcare places at an affordable price; and the flexibility in work life for parents with sick children. Quotas are not a quick fix to achieve gender equality in business life. Quotas are only effective if such welfare measures are in place… we would never have seen such a rapid increase in the number of women on company boards without the use of quotas. Profound political will is necessary… This is about the redistribution of power.

  2. Kaia Maeve says:

    As an entrepreneurial, tech geek 38 year old mother of a two year old, married to a wonderful man 11 years my junior – I can relate to the fact that BOTH roles are really undergoing a massive redesign. Parenting really seems to focus the laser beam on the transformation too, at least in my experience.

    I love that you separate it into CARING and COMPETING and talk about how we all naturally have both sides. I struggle to be “mama” (with all the love and care that my feminine nature is physiologically wired to generate) and at the same time find time to both get my work done (in a small home office) while my husband takes care of the kiddo, the cooking & the cleaning.

    Blessings on my husband for being willing to own all of that, so he can work in a field that he’s passionate about, (children’s martial arts training) for a salary that we don’t want to even have to talk about here. Bless him for being secure enough to do that, and to know that I truly value his contributions to our family more than cash money.

    And even with ALL of this going our way, we still struggle over apportioning the right amount of time for us both to care enough for each other and our kid, & compete to rise in our own lives as well.

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