Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business
Following on from discussions with the Aurora community, this summer we launched the Aurora Book Club, an online community of Aurorans, role models, mentors and champions. The first book was chosen by the Aurora team which was Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Here we reflect on some of the key discussion points.
Unfinished Business provided a rich topic for conversation amongst the Aurora community with discussion topics ranging from the half-truths of having it all, caregiving, being ‘time-macho’ in the workplace and whether the book being USA-centric impacted enjoyment.
Slaughter discusses three half-truths which affect working women’s lives.
- You can have it all if you are committed enough to your career
- You can have it all if you marry the right person
- You can have it all if you sequence it right
Like Slaughter, the group agreed that these were not necessarily impossibilities but certainly beyond control.
One participant reflected that although all three were true in her case that she put this down purely to luck, and reflected that a member of her family had been less lucky. It was clear though that all participants career experiences were very different.
Slaughter discusses caregiving and parental leave when she writes about both sequencing it right and commitment. Book club participants noted that this was something that affected those living in the UK very differently to those in America. In the UK and Ireland paid maternity and paid paternity (UK only) leave are statutory whereas in the USA there is no statutory leave given. The participants reflected anecdotally on how in Scandinavian countries there is a greater gender balance of how this care is legally divided. Which may perhaps give a greater weight to the value of care as it is not something so gendered.
But there are clearly two sides to every story, as one member of the group cited an article in Time Magazine which suggested that increased maternity rights also increase how hard the glass ceiling is.
Slaughter discusses a half-truth in the workplace which is the idea that the ‘person who works longest works best’ and in some workplaces people are ‘time macho’ by being the first in and the last out of the office.
The participants absolutely saw the value of being seen to be working in the workplace, but not necessarily working all hours of the day. They discussed how flexible working can make practical things like arranging meetings a real challenge. Practical advice from the group included choosing events or moments to be seen outside of your working hours that work around your life. You are therefore seen to be going above and beyond, but are less likely to be pressured into additional work that doesn’t fit with you. Another suggestion was the need for institutions to change their culture to allow staff to be able to digitally switch off and concentrate on work, something that had been successfully achieved for some.
A men’s movement
Slaughter is clear that equality in the workplace is not just a women’s issue and that there also needs to be a men’s movement.
This was something that on the whole all participants agreed with and that men should be respected as caregivers. There was some issue with the phrase ‘men’s movement’ with the suggestion that simply Slaughter means more male feminists.
However, Slaughter argues that sometimes, as women, we use the wrong vocabulary and that men do need to be able to be respected in more stereotypically female roles. We remark on ‘halo’ dads who provide care for, or ‘babysit’ their children, but this is detrimental language as it suggests that women are carers and that men who provide care are unusual, or emasculated. Vocabulary is something to be more mindful of and one participant suggested that in her own area of expertise (economics), they needed to think more carefully about language and vocabulary to appeal to female students- the language needs to be less macho.
Despite cultural differences with the author, Unfinished Business seemed to be well received. Phrases that slaughter uses such as ‘work-life fit’ as opposed to ‘work-life balance’ were relevant changes to a UK and Irish audience.
Aurora is the Leadership Foundation’s women-only leadership development programme. Aurora was created in 2013 in response to our own research that shows that women are under-represented in senior leadership positions and identified actions that could be taken to change this. Since Aurora began in 2013 we have welcomed 3,477 women from 139 universities and sector bodies, with 1029 women attending in 2016-17 alone.
Dates, location and booking
Aurora will take place in Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Dublin and London in 2017-18. Book a place here.
Onwards and Upwards study
The first year summary of the five-year longitudinal study of Aurora can be accessed here: Onwards and Upwards year one summary.
The Aurora Conference- Thursday 7 June 2018
We are delighted to be launching our fourth Aurora conference focusing on learning from others – examining what others outside higher education are doing, and what we can learn from them to support women in leadership within the sector.
Participants include, but are not limited to:
- Aurora participants (current and alumnae)
- Aurora champions
- Aurora role models
- Aurora mentors
- People working in/leading equality and diversity
The Aurora Book Club
If you are an Auroran, role model, mentor, or champion please do join us in the Aurora Book Club. The book club was created as a direct response to alumnae feedback, where Aurorans wanted an opportunity to continue their learning beyond the programme.
Every two months, Aurorans will be encouraged to read a different leadership book and discuss it in a closed Facebook group.
Participants are also encouraged to have face-to-face discussions on an institutional or regional level or online discussions via Skype or Google Chat.
Demystifying Finance for Aurorans- Wednesday 18 April 2018
Is for women in higher education who want to improve their understanding of finance in higher education and develop financial management skills.
If you would like to know more about Aurora please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.