Redefining “having it all”

Right policies needed to support women & families

MOST DISCUSSIONS ABOUT women in the workplace call into question women’s ability to “have it all.” That’s the right question, framed in the wrong way.

The traditional frame of “having it all” involves a woman with a home life straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting and a career that’s on fire, and never breaking a sweat. A frame like that furthers a myth that perpetuates inequality. Men don’t have to answer the question of whether they can have it all, and questions about women’s ability to do so hold us back from reaching our potential. The new frame, the right frame, about women “having it all” is about having access to all of the policies and tools we need to support ourselves, our families, our communities, and lead lives we want.

Both here in Massachusetts and nationally, conversations around issues of women, work, and families are reaching a fever pitch. Presidential candidates are touting equal pay as a key component of an economic growth strategy. The Fight for 15 is sweeping the nation with a call for a living minimum wage of $15 per hour. This fall, more than 200 business school professors called on Congress to implement a national paid family and medical leave program. And recently the Massachusetts Legislature unanimously passed a resolution calling for more women on corporate boards. We are optimistic that this country is poised to make meaningful progress in areas that we know have the ability to lift families out of poverty, improve corporate outcomes, and grow our economy.

As individual action items, these are worthy advances. But why can’t we have it all when it comes to public policy? In most rooms we’re in, business, civic, and government leaders are talking about equal pay, or earned sick time, or a living wage, or access to affordable child care, or transgender rights, or the Earned Income Tax Credit, or paid leave, or corporate diversity, or, or, or. Let’s lose the “or,” and substitute “and.”

Why, you ask, should women hit the public policy jackpot? Two reasons: 1) Advancing women and families is complicated, and no one policy will get us where we need to be. 2) Women and families aren’t the only ones who benefit from the proposals outlined above.

The whole economy improves when women and our families succeed. For example, when the minimum wage goes up by $1, the average minimum wage worker puts an additional $2,800 back into the economy. If we closed the wage gap in Massachusetts, over $12 billion dollars would flow into the pockets of Bay State women, particularly low-income wage earners and women of color. That’s $12 billion that could be spent in our local economy or saved for the future. Paid leave keeps turnover costs down by increasing the odds that an employee returns to work after an extended health-related absence. If we employed all of the available women in our workforce, we’d increase the US GDP by five percent. And companies with gender diversity at the top outperform their less diverse counterparts in return on equity, return on sales, and return on invested capital.

Alone, any one of these outcomes is noteworthy. As part of a suite of positive steps tied to improving the lot of women and families, they are economic game-changers. Let’s stop talking about a piecemeal public policy approach to a problem best addressed by a fully stocked policy toolkit. Lose the “or,” embrace the “and,” and, above all, redefine having it all.

Meet the Author

Meet the Author

Meet the Author

Jesse Mermell

President, Alliance for Business Leadership
Jesse Mermell is executive director of the Alliance for Business Leadership. Beth Monaghan is CEO and cofounder of InkHouse PR. Ayanna Pressley is an at-large member of the Boston City Council.

  • http://svn.com/executive-bios/diane-danielson/ Diane Danielson

    Nice discussion about reframing the question. Women shouldn’t be asked about having it all. We should have it all when it comes to public policy. But then again, many of the “women’s issues” need to be reframed as everyone’s issues.