Can Millennial Women Have it All? Maybe?

In the summer of 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter penned an article for The Atlantic entitled: ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.’ Slaughter, who served as the first female director of policy planning for the State Department, was inspired to write about the difficulty in maintaining a high powered career in Washington, D.C. while she and her husband raised two adolescent boys in their hometown of Princeton, N.J.

Eventually, Slaughter left the State Department after her two year public service leave from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School expired, but admits that she “hurried home as fast as she could.”

The article sparked a national conversation on the never ending debate of work-life balance for women and moms. Since then, numerous books and articles have been published, lectures given and debates argued on whether or not women really can have it all.

Three years later, the conversation is as prevalent as ever, reignited by newsmaking interviews, like PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) CEO Indra Nooyi declaring that women can’t have it all, or female executives, like Yahoo!’s (NASDAQ:YHOO) Marissa Mayer, widely looked at as a warrior of work-life balance, taking only two weeks of maternity leave and provoking the wrath of new moms.

Slaughter has revisited the topic in her new book ‘Unfinished Business’ (to be released in September) where she provides an updated answer to the million dollar question.

Since the article’s publication, some things have changed. Take for example Netflix’s (NASDAQ:NFLX) policy of offering a year long maternity leave. Or census data showing that from 1980 to 2011, the number of stay at home dads married to women in finance has increased ten fold.

The changes are happening slowly and incrementally, but there is still a long way to go. The group that is aggressively behind the new wave of work-life balance is Millennials, who now surpass Boomers as the largest demographic in the labor force. Instead of only focusing on oneself, Millennials are driving the mentality that employers need to become much more involved in helping workers ‘have it all.’

While Millennials, especially women, are increasingly delaying marriage and childbearing, to pursue academic and career goals, those plans don’t always work out. Millennials tend to have more egalitarian views on work and family balance than their Generation X counterparts according to a 2015 study from the American Sociological Review, but a recent study from (NYSE:CRCM) Workplace Solutions shows that Generation Y (aka Millennials) falls back on traditional gender roles if there is a lack of family friendly workplace policies. Of the Millennials surveyed, 90% stated that they’ve had to leave work for family responsibilities. Thus the "can women have it all" question lives on. And new research from Goldman Sachs (NSYE:GS) shows that Millennials are now the largest group of new parents.

Recent weeks have seen a flood of companies, especially in the tech sphere, changing their benefits’ policies to be more family friendly. Through family benefit policies, companies can compete for the best talent (notably both Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) changed their maternity leave policies immediately after Netflix did), and it just might give them an edge--in the survey, 83% of Millennials were willing to make a job change based on the benefits that a company could provide.

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Talking about family benefits is an obvious discussion to have when employees are planning to become parents, but according to Donna Levin, a co-founder of and VP of Workplace Solutions, the conversation is now starting well before Millennials even think about settling down. “I’m going to give you 100%. What can you do about that?” said Levin, about what Millennials ask future employers.

California-based Caruso Affiliated, one of the largest privately-held real estate companies, will soon roll out out a slew of new employee services, including grocery shopping and delivery,dry-cleaning drop off and pickup and car refueling, in the spirit of giving back to employees who give so much to them. “Having a concierge available to put gas in your car, or to handle your groceries, is just another way for us to give back to our employees and help them manage their days” said Judy Johnson, Caruso’s chief marketing and communications officer.

But Lauren Wallenstein, an HR consultant, says that many employers still discriminate if a job candidate is asking about parental benefits before even being offered a job. “We need to change that perception. How can you really say you weren’t discriminated against?” Wallenstein said.

To combat discrimination, Millennials argue that employers should be just as involved in figuring out which benefits employees desire. Levin said that some West Coast employers are using an app called Leave Logic which helps new parents and managers work together on planning parental leave. Other companies use events like work anniversaries to discuss current policies with employees.

But of all the benefits that Millennial parents really want is back up childcare, according to the survey. Sick kids can’t go to school or daycare, and without backup childcare someone has to stay at home. According to a MetLife (NYSE:MET) study, work absenteeism can cost businesses billions of dollars a year, another incentive for companies to provide backup childcare.

Most people assume though that parents can easily work from home in the case of a child falling sick. And yes laptops, work phones, remote desktops and numerous other technological advancements have alleviated previous concerns and issues with working from home, but Levin emphasizes that not all roles are suitable to working from home. “Every workplace is different and every role is different.”

The recent New York Times (NYSE:NYT) critical expose on Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) shows how working from home can backfire on moms. One female employee, a former Army captain, would come into work at 7:00 a.m. and leave at 4:30 p.m. to pick up her baby, and would then sign back online in the evening. But because her colleagues did not see her come in early each morning, they accused her of leaving early and her manager reportedly said: “I can’t stand here and defend you if your peers are saying you’re not doing your work.” She left Amazon approximately one year later.

Levin noted that when setting up benefits policies, managers should have an open dialogue with their employees when determining work from home situations. “Working from home isn’t a one- size fits all approach.”

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An often overlooked component of the "can women have it all" debate that was ignited after the Atlantic article is how men, gay couples and anyone else who isn’t a woman feels about their work life balance.

Slaughter describes a man who wrote to her “Couldn’t you write a ‘Why Men Can’t Have it All’ article with the exact same statistics arguing that social pressures on men force them to put work over family and women are better off because they more often get the family part?” Another response to Slaughter’s article said “Oh well, I don’t have those pressures because I’m not a woman--how DARE YOU! EVERY type of caregiver, gay or straight, faces this difficulty...To say that PRIMARILY WOMEN face the pressure to ‘have it all’ is itself sexist.”

For many, it’s not common to think that men may have this desire to spend more time at home, given that the question is posed at whether or not women can have it all. For a large majority of men, though, expressing that view results in a perception of unmanliness or not fulfilling the role of breadwinner, or that by taking leave renders them no longer relevant in the office. Mets infielder Daniel Murphy, who took three days of paternity leave, was slammed by commentators for his decision to do so. And respondents felt in the survey that working dads are the least supported by employer benefits (52% of those surveyed were male). More men are taking paternity leave, but it’s widely known that men follow by example in this situation and are more likely to take leave if their male colleagues do.

Slaughter writes “As the head of human resources for a company where I serve on the board recently told us, Millennials want to be able to work ‘anywhere, anytime, anyhow.’” Millennials have made steady progress in breaking traditional workplace norms, but the generation has more work to do and a long road ahead of them.