Three Women’s Paths Toward a Work-Life Balance


Some 350 people packed Cook Auditorium at the Tuck School of Business April 3 to hear Anne-Marie Slaughter’s lecture, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All: Getting to a Place of Equal Opportunity.“ The event continued the conversation around Slaughter’s argument, outlined in a 2012 essay in The Atlantic. The debate broadened recently with the publication of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, and a letter by pioneer Princeton alumna Susan Patton advising Princeton women to cultivate a husband as soon as possible. And the discussion continues within the Dartmouth community as the institution celebrates 40 years of coeducation and envisions the future through strategic planning. Dartmouth Now invited three prominent Dartmouth women to talk about the choices and challenges they have faced in balancing career and family life.

Denise Anthony, associate professor and past chair of the Department of Sociology, leads a class in Fairchild last week. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Denise Anthony is associate professor and past chair of the Department of Sociology at Dartmouth. She is also research director of the Institute for Security, Technology, and Society. She writes about balancing work and family life.

When I started at Dartmouth as an assistant professor, my children were 1 and 3 years old. My husband was also starting a new job, in a new place, where we knew no one, which meant we both felt pressure to perform well and be successful in our new jobs while also having young children to care for—a task we both relished and yet found demanding and exhausting, too.

Many of the recent commentators about work-life balance, for women particularly (Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In, and Anne-Marie Slaughter in her thoughtful Atlantic piece), identify a supportive spouse as a key to achieving balance. A supportive spouse, like the one I am fortunate to have, is a real partner in caring for the home and family, and is really essential if both parties are going to be successful at work, and frankly, it is good for the family, too.  But a committed partner is just one of the sources of support that all women—and men—need.

Another source of support that has made a big difference for me is friends who are facing the same challenges. Having a good friend laugh with you about the baby spit-up on your blouse, or give you advice on how to make it through a conference presentation when you are worrying about a sick child at home, or simply tell you it is OK that you forgot the parent-teacher meeting or, alternatively, missed a work deadline, is invaluable for your sanity—your balance. Indeed, just seeing other families struggle with similar demands and stresses means it is not so lonely and difficult.

In addition to the personal sources of support we all need, institutionalized support is crucial to enabling women to succeed. When I started at Dartmouth, we were fortunate to have quality day care available—at the Dartmouth College Child Care Center—so even though it was expensive, we felt good about the care our children received there.

In my opinion, the importance of available, quality, affordable child care cannot be overstated when talking about work-life balance. This applies to care giving in general, since for some, work-life balance means also caring for elderly parents or other family members.  But child care is not the only institutional source of support needed. Just as Anne-Marie Slaughter relates the advantages of her Princeton career in her Atlantic article, I feel fortunate to be an academic, not only because I love what I do, but also because it allows for more flexibility and control over my schedule. I am not expected to be at a desk, or with clients or customers, or running meetings, between specific hours every day. I have also benefitted from the fact that my husband’s job has allowed him to work flexible hours and work from home, which makes that supportive partnership possible.

Finally, policies at Dartmouth—for instance, extending the tenure clock—as well as senior mentors, both male and female, have also made it possible for me to succeed at work while keeping my family life in balance. I am grateful for all of that support, but more than that, I am committed to making sure the colleagues around me have the ongoing support, both personal and institutional, we all need to stay in balance.

Charlotte Johnson, Dean of the College at Dartmouth, has worked as a senior administrator at Colgate University and the University of Michigan Law School and was a litigator for the Garan Lucow Miller law firm in Detroit. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Johnson)

Charlotte H. Johnson was named dean of the college at Dartmouth in May 2011. Before that, she had served as vice president and dean of the college at Colgate University. She writes about her path.

As an African-American woman who spent the first decade of her career as a litigator, I have not always had the privilege of seriously contemplating what it would take to achieve work-life balance. Rightly or wrongly, as a young lawyer I believed that in order to be taken seriously it was necessary to sacrifice any semblance of a balanced life. Even before my professional career began, my drive to succeed was guided by the recurring refrain of family members—“you must work twice as hard to get half as far.” This work ethic, when coupled with the sense of obligation to do better than the generation before me, virtually eliminated any notion that a well-rounded life was an option.

From a race, class, and gender perspective, my path to success was both clear and uncomplicated by goals like “balance” or, to some degree, “happiness.”  I was well into my 30s before my salvation, which occurred the minute I realized I had options about how to live, work, and be in the world. However, those options were created, not discovered—I don’t know that they would have materialized without spending much of my early adulthood working myself into the ground.

I am encouraged by the national dialogue on work-life balance, particularly as the topic pertains to women. It is difficult to imagine that the topic would have gained as much traction in not so distant decades. Still, that the conversation has largely been conducted by women and is primarily focused on women underscores the persistent gendering of the workplace, as well as the persistence of expectations that track traditional notions of women’s roles in society.

I am also encouraged by the girls and young women in the generations after me, who seem to take for granted the fact that they should lead integrated lives where their work fuels their passions and their passions fuel their work. My hope for the generations and demographics of women they represent is that work–life balance will always be a choice.

Vice President of Alumni Relations Martha Beattie ’76 meets with a co-worker in her office in Blunt Hall last week. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Martha Johnson Beattie ’76 was named vice president of alumni relations in May 2011. She spoke with Dartmouth Now about juggling her commitments.

When Dartmouth named Martha Johnson Beattie ’76 vice president of Alumni Relations in May 2011, it wasn’t so much a career change as a job title adjustment. Beattie, part of the first four-year class to matriculate women, had held Dartmouth alumni leadership roles for more than 30 years as well as working as a math teacher and a crew coach, and holding board positions for several nonprofits.

With three children arriving along the way, balancing career and family life has always been an ”interesting“ challenge for Beattie and her husband, James Beattie ’76, whose resume includes a World Series ring as a pitcher for the ’78 New York Yankees and stints as general manager for the Montreal Expos and the Baltimore Orioles. In fact, the Beatties’ current house is their 19th since the Dartmouth classmates were married.

Martha Beattie says the anchor in their lives has been Dartmouth.

”That’s the beauty of Dartmouth. The Dartmouth community is everywhere, and it really was the one constant in our lives,“ she says. Her work has been at the top echelon. Beattie was head coach for the U.S. Women’s Junior National Crew Team and founder of one of the first women’s masters crew teams. As a member and president of the Alumni Council, she helped revise the Alumni Council constitution and chaired the first Alumni Liaison Committee.

She says James Beattie’s 16 years in Seattle playing and then working for the Mariners organization provided stability for their three children’s school years, although high school was interrupted by moves to Montreal and Hanover, so they enrolled all three in boarding school.

”It is not what we would have wished for, to be honest, but because we knew that consistency was critical through high school it ended up working out well,“ she says.

”What Anne-Marie Slaughter says is, if you are lucky and you can craft enough of the schedule for your own time, it is easier to have it all,“ she says. ”Honestly, the job that I have now—with the constant meetings and the constant schedule of committee work and phone calls—I would have found it almost impossible to do in my previous life, because when the children are home and my husband was traveling 200 days a year, I don’t think I could have found the balance. “

The first woman to lead the Office of Alumni Relations at Dartmouth, Beattie says she aims to bring more balance to the work.

”My goal is to have it set up so that the structure has enough support that any woman or man can have this job at any stage of life,“ she says. And she is optimistic.  She sees more flexibility in the workplace today for women and men to balance family and career. ”We just make it work," she says.

Bill Platt