Anne-Marie Slaughter: shaking up the workplace

Stop the talent drain and implement family-friendly policies. Merryn Somerset Webb talks to author Anne-Marie Slaughter.


Anne-Marie Slaughter: fight for equality has work to do yet

Stop the talent drain: implement family-friendly policies, says Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Anne-Marie Slaughter has one hell of a CV. She has taught at Harvard and at the University of Chicago; in 2011 she became the first woman to be appointed director of policy planning for the US State Department; she has published three books; and she is now the CEO of the New America Foundation, a think tank. The day we speak is the right sort of day for me to talk to her. I'm working from home (childcare issues). And her latest book is not on politics, but on families.

Her new book, Unfinished Business, has in it, she tells me, two big ideas. The first is that the correct response to gender inequality in the workplace is not just to elevate women to the same place as men in the workplace. The process also has to recognise the value of "traditional women's work". The work of care is "equal to the work of earning a living".

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Until "we recognise and make room for care in the workplace and national policy", real equality is impossible. The second is that "we have to learn to value care when men do it just as much as when women do it" and that men need to become as engaged in the work of the home "as women are now engaged in the work of the office".

Most men "help out" a lot. But not that many are "fully competent in the home", which creates what Slaughter calls the "halo dad" effect, whereby men are treated as being brilliant for picking children up from school or managing family dentist appointments. The truth is that it isn't possible given the way workplaces work for a woman to run "a household and a company at the same time... if you want to be CEO, you need a lead parent husband, just like all those male CEOs have lead parent wives". Really good careers are often made by two people, not one so as a society we need to "expand what our concept of men's roles is".

Young men, says Slaughter, "expect to be equal parents", but in the US in particular that expectation "collides with a very traditional workplace" with endless protest over the expense of changing towards more family friendly policies. But it is expensive, isn't it, I ask? "100 years ago governments said it would be prohibitively expensive to have workers only work eight hours," says Slaughter.

But "we mandated an eight-hour workday and the economy didn't come to a halt. It's also true that the thing that companies complain aboutthe most is constant loss of talent if they would allow workers to be whole human beings they would be able to keep that talent more easily."

There isn't much for us to argue about here who could disagree? (Your comments belowplease.) So we move on to the macro environment. Last time we spoke (in 2013 after Slaughter's TED talk in Edinburgh), she was pretty sanguine about the US, but worried about Europe. How does she feel now? That the world is more interlinked and complex than ever, and that the "new normal" will always involve a crisis of some kind "some country going down, disease breaking out somewhere, natural catastrophes" to worry about.

But the US isn't in a bad place. Its new energy independence makes it less dependent on oil prices and "we're not going to return to a state where that is not true. We also look like a relatively safe haven", given that the "economy looks fine". She is also more optimistic on Europe than most. By now, "the euro was supposed to have been done in and everything was supposed to have come to a crashing halt". But Greece is "muddling through" and they "still want the euro and they still want EUmembership".

I ask whether she thinks it might be immigration, not money, that brings the EU down. She doesn't. Instead, she sees the refugee crisis as showing some of the best of Germany in particular "in terms of standing for European valuesas the state that created massive waves of refugees in the 1930s". The narrative of the EU, says Slaughter, is not (as we tend to think) one of constant failure to deal with crisis, but of each crisis resulting "in a strengthening of European institutions". Any suspension of Schengen should be seen in this light as a safety valve measure that will lead to a better system of border controls within the EU.

That said, she does think the world needs to find better ways of dealing with refugees. Most want to go home. But we leave them waiting in camps we seem to accept as "places of squalor and despair". If we used the "concentration of people as an opportunity to build economic infrastructure" in areas close to the borders of refugees' original homes, we could build new cities in which we could educate refugee children and "inculcate habits of political participation".


With the proper infrastructure in the right locations, their time away from their home land can be much better used, says Slaughter. It's hard to find much to argue with there either.

Unfinished Business is published by Oneworld Publications (£16.99).

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.