After some tweet and email discussions with Anne Marie Slaughter and Cali Williams Yost about Anne Marie’s article on The Atlantic, and the uproar about Marissa Mayer becoming Yahoo’s CEO while she is pregnant, I decided to weigh in. Finally, we are having an honest discussion of “having it all” instead of perpetuating a fairly tale. While this has mainly been viewed as a ‘woman’s’ issue, it is a very human issue.
The phrase “having it all” is a huge part of the problem. First, no human being can have it all, regardless of gender. Second, as an advocate of Buber’s “I-Thou”, the focus of “having it all” is on I, not Thou. I firmly believe that focusing on “I” always leads to disappointment (in ourselves and others), dissatisfaction with one’s life and an addiction to seeking satisfaction and happiness. It leads to judging others and ourselves by what we don’t have but want, what we feel we are entitled to and what we did or didn’t do. It leads to a treadmill of keeping up and keeping ahead. It reinforces a binary world of it’s “me” or “them” - either/or – not “us”, not “and”. Throughout my career, when I focus on the “Thou”, helping my clients’ solve challenges and innovate resulting in growth, jobs, philanthropy, the “I” takes care of itself. When I focus on the needs of others, clients, entrepreneurs and students I mentor, my network, my own business grows as well, allowing me to do more “Thou”… a virtuous and incredibly rewarding (oh, “I”!) cycle.
My journey of work+life has been blessedly based on “I-Thou” + “AND”, very progressive for its time. Growing up in Bell Labs, I was very spoiled with a great deal of freedom, intellectual stimulation, and no sense of gender discrimination. It was a discovery ‘factory’ that sought AND solutions. My bosses were mentors who led with “I-Thou”:
- One put his credibility on the line to promote me, a 22yr old ‘kid’, to a level that required a Ph.D. or at least MS, making me the first, if not one of, to get to that level without the required degrees;
- Another measured his success on his people’s success (output) and impact (outcome); he was one of the most admired, and loved, managers and had one of the highest promotion rates.
When I said I was quitting to move to Oberlin, OH to marry my husband in 1988, AT&T/Bell Labs offered to move me if I wouldn’t quit…another “I-Thou” moment. My management made the case for paying to move me to Oberlin and pay for weekly commutes than lose me. For 9 years I flew to NJ every week and to Europe or Asia monthly, was given a laptop with global network access, a cell phone and a fully equipped home office. When I had children, with fabulous maternity-leave and benefits, I returned to work from home, no travel, part-time – keeping my same level and responsibilities. I was able to do very meaningful, impacting work because I demonstrated my talent and my management recognized my worth.
I love what I do. I am passionate (and blessed) about the impact my work can have on my clients’ business, employees and communities, my mentees, “portfolio companies” - professionally, organizationally and even personally. I find it difficult to separate my passion for my ‘work’ from my passion for ‘life’ and hope to impart that to my children. I pray they find an ‘avocation’ that integrates the various aspects of their lives. I want them to know that they can impact the world in many ways – from career to marriage to parenthood to friendships etc.; that their solution is an AND, not Either/Or. The workplace is evolving, in fits and starts as it fights the status quo, to make this goal more achievable than in the past.
We’ve all make trade-offs in our lives. It’s impossible not to. Anne Marie Slaughter’s essay makes it clear that these are personal choices that require honest and straightforward discussion without judgment. This is not to say that we don’t have an issue with women’s accessibility to influence and power in the ‘corporate’ world. We do. But we need to ease up on prescribing and focus on enabling solutions that meet the needs of the working person as a whole: as an employee, parent, spouse, sibling, child, community member, etc. It’s messy – welcome to the 21st C! Everything is a ‘mess’ – and what a blessing! This messiness is the foundation of change, transformation and innovation. Perhaps we needed to reach this point to finally create flexible, agile, nimble solutions that don’t discriminate between “work” and “life”. This is the century of AND not Either/Or…of trying to ‘give it all’ vs. ‘have it all’.
So, what can you do to evolve to an “I-Thou” management style, culture, habit? How can you leverage that to help you and your employees create an AND solution? How can you avoid creating a false choice of Either/Or? How can you change your perspective and leverage the opportunity this ‘mess’ provides to create incredible outcomes for Thou’s?