10 years “Why women still can’t have everything” | Still challenges for women

In the summer of 2012, American Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former Hillary Clinton associate, published in the magazine The Atlantic Ocean “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” an essay that would appeal to many women and spark debate in feminist circles. Are women still doomed to sacrifice ten years and a pandemic later?

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Valerie Simard

Valerie Simard
The press

By leaving her prestigious White House post to return to teach at Princeton University, and most importantly, by declaring loud and clear that, contrary to what the previous generation would have us believe, women can’t have it all, Anne-Marie Slaughter has received praise and criticism.

“Women of my generation have held on to the feminist creed they were raised with, even as our ranks have steadily shrunk amid persistent tensions between family and career as we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation,” she wrote. But when many of the younger generation have stopped listening and claiming that casually repeating “we can have it all” obscures reality, it’s time to speak up.”

While the demands of her job were extreme — she was home only on weekends — and her testimony took place in an American reality where paid maternity leave doesn’t exist and childcare is expensive, his speech reverberated in Quebec. Because here, too, women continued to fight for equality, despite the parental leave and the network of shelters for young children.


Anne-Marie Slaughter

Barriers still present

Léa Clermont-Dion, a political science student at the time, was among those asked for comment, in The pressthe words of Anne-Marie Slaughter.

“I’m not a mother, but I don’t think we can have everything,” she said at the time. This generation that wanted it all was motivated by the quest for performance. It is the syndrome of our society. And I still feel that pressure, we women get the illusion that we will be Super woman all our lives. »

Today she has two children aged 2 and 3 years old. She makes documentaries while pursuing postgraduate studies at Concordia University. Did she manage to have everything? She doesn’t believe.


Lea Clermont-Dion

“During my career in academia, I encountered a lot of system breaches that made me say I can’t have everything, certainly not. She points out that with two young children, she has not been able to do as much research as her male colleagues.

It makes it harder for me to get a teaching job. I tell myself that maybe it won’t happen, because I chose to have children in college, which I was advised against. But I chose to listen to myself through everything.

Lea Clermont-Dion

Looking back, she now sees the courage Anne-Marie Slaughter showed in publishing this text, which she says “has played a crucial role around the world in raising awareness of a taboo topic: the systemic and sometimes invisible barriers that still face women. hinder their social growth”.

According to Hélène Lee-Gosselin, associate professor in the management department of Université Laval, these barriers are still present. “Is it possible for women to have everything? No, because they operate in a context where organizational imperatives weigh heavily, not only in the present moment when we have to juggle limitations like the children who are sick, but also in the medium and long term. Am I seen as a reliable person for the organization? »


Hélène Lee-Gosselin, associate professor in the management department of Laval University

This reality also affects fathers, who want to be more involved in the household, but increasingly punish mothers, notes the person who has conducted several studies on the situation of women in organizations. And this, despite the implementation, in recent years, of a work-life balance policy. “The culture that there may be a sanction for ‘overusing this policy’ has not changed much,” emphasizes the professor.

A glimmer of hope

Due to the sun’s breakthrough in the landscape, the pandemic would have made it easier to reconcile work and family, despite the difficulties families were plunged into during the first wave, with the closure of nurseries and schools.

A study conducted by researchers Sophie Mathieu and Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay, based on the results of two surveys conducted by Léger in January 2018 and May 2020 on behalf of the Réseau pour un Québec Famille, shows that a higher proportion of mothers ( 58 %) and fathers (65%) found work-life balance easy during the pandemic, ie increases of six and eight percentage points.


Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay, TELUQ professor and specialist in human resources management and labor sociology

“It can be partly explained because people were able to telecommute,” said Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay, a professor at the TELUQ School of Administrative Sciences, who has studied work-family balance for years. “So, while there have been some tough times, I think the organizations are generally more open, especially with regard to women. »

However, women have had to quit their jobs or cut their hours to care for children (or a sick relative), and while men have done more housework, women have done even more, she adds.

The planning, the clothes to be bought, the books for school, the appointments to be made with the doctor, all the mental work of parenting, is even more on the side of women.

Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay, professor at TELUQ School of Business Administration

She is also concerned about the lack of childcare places, a “major problem” that could affect women’s employment rates.

A privileged position

Written at a time when intersectional issues were little discussed, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s text has an important blind spot, points out Léa Clermont-Dion. From the perspective of a very privileged white woman, he does not consider the oppressions that could make the situation worse. “But if Anne-Marie is breathless, unable to make it, as a privileged white woman, what is it to all those who do not have her privileges? »

Asma Ghali, a woman of Tunisian descent who works in the technology sector, witnesses the systemic barriers that still exist for workers in non-traditional sectors, who also belong to a minority. Program manager at IBM, the 30-year-old mentors several women from different backgrounds as part of a mentoring program set up by the company.


Asma Ghali, program manager at IBM

“It’s not natural for leaders to assign important tasks to women,” she says. We entrust you with projects with a minimal risk percentage because we want the woman to show us that she can handle the pressure. She still finds motherhood in her industry an obstacle to climbing the ladder.

There are policies for work-life balance, but in practice what are the profiles we see rising rapidly? In general, these are men or people who have fewer limitations. Of course, we’re not going to tell you that it’s because you went on maternity leave.

Asma Ghali, program manager at IBM

Appreciating attendance at happy hours and business networking is also a barrier for those with family disabilities, she continues.

Ambitious and determined to climb the ladder, she says she is ready to put aside her desire to have children. “I have that desire, but my desire to be a role model for people who are like me is greater and it is a sacrifice I said I was ready for.”

In 10 years “it is clear that things have evolved, concludes Hélène Lee-Gosselin, but at different speeds and it is not in all industries, for all professions and for all social levels. But there is certainly a path that is easier to take and that is demanding change.”

A “joyful imbalance”


Vicky Boudreau, CEO and co-founder of Bicom, with her two daughters, Téa and Dani

Being a mother and thriving in her career is also not a utopia. Goodbye, guilt, make way for imbalance!

At the head of a communications agency with offices in Montreal, Toronto and soon in New York, Vicky Boudreau doesn’t recognize herself in the dark image of Anne-Marie Slaughter. “It’s really extreme in terms of sacrifice and I don’t think it’s something I would pick,” she said from Toronto, where she travels regularly. She also says she is surprised how the situation has evolved in ten years. “For our youngest employees, balance and flexibility is a new reality that companies face and that can change society in one way or another,” said Bicom’s leader, board of directors and founder.

With two daughters, ages 4 and 8, and a husband who also owns a business, Vicky Boudreau is one of those often asked: how do you manage (imply, to have it all)? A question that, she admits, makes her uncomfortable. ” Yes [j’ai tout], sort of, but not everything is perfect. I have people around me who help me, I do what I like, I have two healthy daughters. I am really lucky in many respects”, remarks the one who is very aware of her privileges.


Vicky Boudreau: “Yes [j’ai tout], sort of, but not everything is perfect. I have people around me who help me, I do what I like, I have two healthy daughters. I am really lucky on many points. »

“Happy imbalance” are the words she uses to describe the way she juggles the different spheres of her life. Entrepreneurship, with the flexibility that allows it, is also a model conducive to welcoming this imbalance.

She explains the “dimmer theory” to the women leaders she teaches at the Leadership Institute [gradateurs] » which she developed with a neighbor, an entrepreneur. On his imaginary wall hang five dimmers that represent five spheres of his life: family, couple, career, friends and self. “It’s impossible to always have the five orbs with the lights at their highest and it’s an image that gives me great peace of mind. »

For example, I’m in Toronto this week, but I know I’m going on vacation with my family next week. It’s a happy imbalance that makes me feel comfortable with my decisions, and I rarely feel guilty.

Vicky Boudreau

Since she started her business at the age of 24 (she is now 40), it has reached a cruising speed that allows her to work few evenings and weekends.

“That’s what I made as a choice, to accept the imbalance,” says Léa Clermont-Dion, mother of two and postgraduate candidate. To also accept that I don’t cook at home, to accept that I will not live up to certain expectations that some people may have of me, as a wife, as a mother. I will not be the mother who will always do everything. I really rebel against these dictates. »

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