What does the future look like for women? In fall 2020, at our annual Women’s Forum, we aimed to answer just that question during an incredible discussion with Anne-Marie Slaughter and Juliette Kayyem on the future of women, wealth and work. Here, we share some of the key takeaways from our conversation.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America, a think and action tank dedicated to renewing the promise of America, and Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor Emerita of Politics & International Affairs at Princeton University
Juliette Kayyem, Professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Faculty Director of the Homeland Security Project and Security & Global Health Project, former Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, CNN National Security Analyst and CEO of Grip Mobility, a technology company looking to provide transparency in the rideshare industry
Anne-Marie, it’s been five years since you wrote “Unfinished Business,” and eight years since your article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Over that time, what has changed the most for women?
Anne-Marie Slaughter: There is a much greater emphasis on care in addition to career. When I wrote my article, I was focused almost entirely on career. By the time I wrote “Unfinished Business” three years later, my views had shifted pretty dramatically to acknowledge that we had to value traditional women’s work as much as traditional men’s work to achieve gender equality. I was focused on the work of caregiving – whether raising children or caring for elders – when very few people were talking about it. Fast-forward, and we are now talking about the care economy and about a package of care-related policies, which will include areas such as paid family leave and daycare, as well as ways of increasing wages and benefits for people in care occupations. That’s the biggest change.
Juliette, you’ve talked a lot about how COVID-19 has especially impacted those who have care responsibilities, and particularly those who have school-age children. How can we support those families during this time?
Juliette Kayyem: It’s a women’s recession, and that’s due to three combined factors. First, the industries women work in are built around areas that were impacted drastically, such as entertainment, hotels and service. Second, state and local governments have been hit massively because of the loss of the tax break, and we’re seeing women in those spheres either not getting promoted, not getting hired or getting terminated. Third is the childcare issue. Here, I want to be hopeful. One of the things that I think is going to come out of this is re-evaluating how we think about critical infrastructure in this country. If I told you that to deal with some sort of threat, we were going to turn off your electricity but didn’t know for how long or how we would turn it back on, you wouldn’t be happy. We never thought of schools as a critical infrastructure. We left them to figure out closing down and reopening on their own. The result is a critical infrastructure that went down, and for working mothers, it was the issue that brought them home. We can’t do this again. We have to figure out how to support working women.
AMS: When people think of infrastructure, they think of roads, bridges, ports and broadband. The economy doesn’t work if you can’t get places. It also doesn’t work if we don’t have care and can’t tap our full workforce. By ensuring childcare, parental leave and eldercare, we make sure that children ages 0 to 18 are taken care of and educated and that older people have the similar resources. That is essential infrastructure.
What are the long-term ramifications of this year of remote work and school, and what should we think about taking with us even after we are out of this period?
AMS: Long term, it’s better for anybody who needs flexibility, and that certainly includes working caregivers. I’ve given countless speeches talking about how performance is more important than presence. Now, we’ve all been at home, and many people say they’re more productive because they can better schedule their time. That’s a huge step forward. We just need to reuse our real estate and work rhythms differently. Everything about the way we work will change – it will be a mix of the office and home.
JK: The other area I wanted to raise when thinking about long-term changes is travel. The idea that institutions now no longer view travel as a necessary part may open up job opportunities and promotions to women who previously would not have been able to do so much travel.
AMS: That’s really important. There are so many women who could be promoted to the next level, and they decide to hold because of the travel, often because they have young kids. It makes sense. However, if you said, you have to travel half as much, and you have flexibility when you’re home, that starts looking much more manageable.
What does this mean for workplaces? How do we make sure they are resilient going forward? Are they going to look and feel different in the future?
JK: The office isn’t dead, but the idea that we couldn’t do it remotely is wrong. Let me describe how we’re thinking about this from the health and security perspective. There are three factors at play in terms of how we think about planning a reopening. The first consideration is: Can I minimize contact intensity? When you’re bringing people back to the office, you need to think about contact. Do you shut down the elevators? Close the gym and the cafeteria? The second factor is the number: Can I manage my contacts? This is a numbers game, so think about ways to bring in fewer people at a time in pod work environments. The third factor is maximizing your personal mitigation – masks, social distancing and working from home.
My professional advice to companies thinking about this: The question isn’t when; the question I ask is why. What’s motivating you to bring people together? It makes no sense to me to not hold off on making a judgment call until at least June or July 2021. If you have plans to open up before that in any meaningful way, ask yourself: What’s animating this? Is it just status quo? Because I’m looking out in the world now, and your employees probably don’t want to come into an office.
AMS: I mostly agree. We ask New Americans frequently if they want to come back. We’re a mostly millennial workforce, and I will say there are some in that group – 20% to 30% – who want to come back. They are in apartments with very little space, and they miss the socialization they get at work. However, those same millennials also want to be able to work wherever they want. That trend was already happening for us. You put that together with these changes, and I see us all using about half the real estate footprint we used to use, so I do expect a big shakeup in the commercial real estate market.
What are our children learning as they make their way through this pandemic – and how do we avoid raising a generation of worriers?
JK: If you have older kids who are teenagers or in college, they’re mad – and rightfully so. It seems unfair to them. Looking at the bigger picture, there will be a generation that has lost a year of education, and some of them may never get it back. The digital divide is real, and we’re going to have socioeconomic challenges in that regard as well.
What’s the polling telling us? This is a generation that is demanding action and results from government. Because of this, we may see the voting gaps among younger people and underrepresented groups change, as well as more political engagement and wider representation in candidates.
AMS: It’s a very activist generation, and it’s not just the pandemic. They’re looking at climate change and systemic racism – and in every area, at how government is doing its job. They’re demanding more of government, but they’re certainly not trusting them to deliver. Many young people are engaged and running for government positions, and I do think there’s a community self-reliance. Look at the explosion of mutual aid societies. That’s a very traditional mindset of, no one else is going to help us, so we’re going to help ourselves.
What are the qualities and characteristics that we value and need in leaders at this moment, and how are you seeing women rise to the occasion?
JK: Much has been written about why the women-led countries did better during COVID-19, and there’s going to be debates about whether that’s inherent. However, there are three leadership qualities that we look at with women that I do believe carry weight during a pandemic. One is compassion, which is an understanding that people just need a little give right now. The second is facts – all people want are numbers and hope. Then, the third one is the willingness to make a decision with imperfect information. Is it that these female leaders were better, or were they just willing to make decisions?
AMS: A pandemic is the kind of crisis where charisma and command don’t help very much. The virus doesn’t care how charismatic you are, and trying to order things around when you don’t know all of the facts doesn’t work well. What I think of as a frequent female trait is a more collaborative style. Let’s bring the team together and hear from different people – and let’s not be afraid to say when we got it wrong. Those women leaders were willing to make decisions with incomplete facts and then acknowledge when they needed to revise their plan. That is easier to do if you’re leading more collaboratively.
How do we think about investing in innovation for the future to make sure some of these positives that have come out of this experience remain permanent?
AMS: The pandemic is a time machine to the future. So much of what we are seeing, we should have been seeing for two decades because of digital technology. Digital technology is the equivalent of the internal combustion engine, electricity and steam, which changed everything about how we lived and worked. One example is higher education. Everyone has finally discovered that you can give your lectures once, and they can be available digitally. Then, you can do all sorts of things with your seminar, and you don’t have to be physically present. On top of that, you can offer really good education at a fraction of the cost. That’s just one example of an entire industry that was stuck in old habits and is finally being disrupted by digital technology.
I think we’re going to see enormous changes across many industries, and I would invest in the care sector. The fastest-growing jobs are not just home healthcare aides and childcare – they’re also coaches, navigators, guides and mentors. In his new book, Jamie Merisotis, the president of the Lumina Foundation, says that with AI and robotics, the work of the future is going to be the work that only humans can do, and care is one of those categories.
JK: I think some interesting areas to look into are health data and cybersecurity. All of this information around health data – from what you have or had to whether or not you got the COVID-19 vaccine – needs to be protected, so health security is an interesting investment. Then, there’s cybersecurity. The patchwork response to cybersecurity needs to be rethought. I also think as buildings open up, we’re going to see the rise of the chief health officer, and one area of focus is going to be touchless – anything in touchless security and touchless movement of people.
How do you deal with people who think we are going back to “normal” after this is all over?
AMS: The first part of the argument is what I said before – a lot of the changes we are seeing have been anticipated for a long time. The technology and the possibility were there – what was holding them up was the entrenched human habit. Once you break those habits, many of the arguments that people used to make to rationalize old ways – like that everybody has to be in the office to be productive – go away.
The second argument is that young people are already working differently – they grew up on screens. Millennials are the largest group in the workforce, and they couldn’t understand why we were so backward as to think they should be in the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. So, it’s a combination of the demographic change plus technological and habit changes.
JK: One of the benefits of a disruptive event like this taking place for such a long period of time is that it gives us time to think. In crisis management, we say that disaster hits the nation as it is, not as you want it to be, because it’s a mirror of everything that’s bad. This event gives us time to look in that mirror and determine what was not working for us and make permanent changes. I think a lot about resiliency, and one of my favorite stories around this comes from a conversation I had with the woman who was in charge of the recovery for Joplin, Missouri, after it was hit by a tornado. I told her I was amazed at how at peace she was, and she told me that the devil only wins if we don’t do better next time. The devil only wins this pandemic if you think we should go back to normal. We’ve lost too many people to go back to normal.
What makes you optimistic about 2021?
AMS: This country needs to come together to heal. It is not going to be easy. However, having leaders who want to find common ground and come together to drive change makes me optimistic. We are going through an enormous demographic transition and an enormous technological transition, but we can renew ourselves.
JK: I’m looking forward to shame returning to this country. You can have your bad opinions – I don’t want them amplified from leadership positions. I don’t want sexism, racism and xenophobia nurtured. We are divided. There’s no question about it. But I think all of us believe that there are viewpoints that do not necessarily need to be nurtured. I want us to be more assertive of the universal ideals that have lost a place at the table over the last couple of years – family, values and openness.
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