Unfinished Business: Staff Pick

Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter is set to be released next month. This must-read book on work-life balance, the care economy, and how we can all balance our families and our jobs is a staff pick for October!

Anne-Marie Slaughter is the current president and CEO of the New America Foundation. Formerly she was a professor at Princeton, and served as Director of Policy Planning for the United States State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Unfinished Business

"“We have decided that raising a child is real work, and that this work provides value for the whole society.” It is only fair then, “that society as a whole should pay for this valuable service.””

This is a quote from the Norwegian minister of children and family, and one that Slaughter quotes towards the end of this great, and extremely readable, book. You might even call it a manifesto.

Slaughter takes as her starting point her article in The Atlantic from a few years ago - the one that basically said, women can’t actually have it all, and is “all” actually worth having. Weaving her own life story throughout the book adds a sense of realism to the ideas in Unfinished Business. This is a great read on a timely and necessary topic.

As a society do we overvalue ‘work’ and undervalue ‘care’? We do.
We prioritize making money over making better and more educated human beings.
We pay lip service to the idea that ‘being a mother is the hardest job,’ and then don’t pay care workers a living wage.
Companies offer paternity leaves and then encourage their male employees to not take one.

Anne-Marie Slaughter makes some excellent points about women opting out of the workforce, and not always by choice. There is a huge amount of lost knowledge and potential resources that we have in the swath of women who were not able to get back into the workforce once their children were older. There is a discussion of "equal" marriages, and why those promises tend to be thrown out the window once children arrive.

This issue is a business and societal issue. It is not just a "women's" issue.

She does offer some light at the end of the tunnel with discussions on new ways to work and new workplaces that also prioritize families and care. She, wisely, also brings men into the picture and talks about the toxic perceptions of masculinity and how they create men who may want to stay home with their children, but can’t because of work and societal pressure which states that a man must bring home the bacon, and earn more than his wife.

A quibble: although Slaughter does make mention of wage issues, single parents, single mothers and wage-work, this is really a book for white-collar workers. There isn’t anything here that would help a single-parent, who has two children and two jobs and can still barely make ends meet - never mind accessing good child care. These are much large societal and policy-based issues that will not be solved by academics talking about stay-at-home dad’s, but by changes in policy and changes in the way we view low-income workers, single-mothers and child-rearing in general.

This is a great book to be added to the canon on “work-life balance”, caring for children, and perceptions of gender and work. It is fantastic to have a book like this written by such a well respected academic, and one who has the ear of many in Washington, plus the knowledge of how it works. It is encouraging to read about the policies that Hillary Clinton had in her office when she was secretary of state - it makes one hopeful for a future when a woman like that has a chance of becoming president of the United States and perhaps being able to enact change on a wholesale national level.

Also by Anne-Marie Slaughter:

What Works for Women at Work

Other books on this subject:

Overwhelmed

Lean in

The Slow Fix

All Joy and No Fun

Wonder Women

The Sweet Spot

Why Have Kids?

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