Jack Welch is Wrong

The Internet has been abuzz for a week over Jack Welch's comments that women can't have it all.  

Janet Bangall of The Gazette goes straight to the Forbes magazine 2008 list of the World's 100 Most Powerful Women to find out how wrong Welch is. Sure, she points out, the woman who ranks 1st on the list, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, doesn't have any children. But check out the next five on the list:

Sheila C. Bair, chairperson of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, is married with two children. She describes balancing work and family as her "biggest challenge."

No. 3 on the list is Indra K. Nooyi, president, chief financial officer and director of PepsiCo. She is married and has two children.

Next up is Angela Braly, CEO of WellPoint Inc., the largest health insurer in the U.S. She is married. Her three children are aged 18, 15 and 12.

No. 5 is Cynthia Carroll, chief executive officer of Anglo American PLC, one of the largest mining companies in the world. She and her husband have four children.

In sixth spot is Irene B. Rosenfeld, CEO of Kraft Foods, the second largest food and beverage company in the world after Nestlé SA, as well as its board chairperson. She and her husband have two daughters. 

Bangall thinks "Welch's thesis is ridiculous." What do you think?



As I think I’ve said somewhere on before, I don’t think that you can have everything.  Sure, you can be a powerful professional, wife/partner, mother, sister, friend, volunteer, marathoner all at the same time.  But, you won’t be the best at everything at the same time and you won’t avoid the pulling from multiple directions or the guilt associated with the position of having people depend on you with competing interests.
I really think that showing that powerful women have families doesn’t show much of anything other than they have, at least at some points in their lives, prioritized their career over other things—which, by the way, I don’t have a problem with.  Also, it doesn’t show that it is easy or even that these people are "balanced"—a term that is individually defined by every woman that seeks it. One more thing, Jack Welch basically warned that professional success requires sacrifices. This, IMHO, is absolutely true and we do a dis-service to young women if we claim that he isn’t dead right on that.


I agree with the basic premise that high achievement requires exceptional commitment and personal sacrifice. However, I don’t think women should be punished for getting pregnant. And Welch seems to be condoning the professional culture that does just that.
Forget debates about part-time, flex-time, and work/life balance. Pregnant women and new mothers may need to take reduced hours or time off for their health. And Welch doesn’t seem to differentiate their situation from those moms who decide to coach soccer on saturdays regardless of their trial schedule. One is truly a choice between parenting and working, which men and women should be allowed to make. The other is not.
And I think Welch fails to make the distinction because of gender bias, because the pregnancy problem is naturally women’s. His failure to take ownership as a colleague, manager, and employer for the physical realities facing women everywhere is irresponsible, antiquated, and discriminatory. 


First, let me acknowledge that I am always slow to recognize "gender bias". Also, I have just realized that I haven’t read the article (I don’t have a subscription) but have, instead just read the commentary from the legal profession on his comments. With all of that said, were his comments really aimed at the physical aspects of birthing a child or the standard maternity leave time? I thought his message was more about the sacrifices that are required for professional success and the fact that work/life balance is not a realistic possibility. He obviously did not lead a balanced life and I think his message is that you shouldn’t expect to if you want to be successful. Don’t you think that he would also say that you shouldn’t hope for professional success if you have a medical condition or illness that will take you away from the workplace for inordinate periods of time? But.. I think it is unfair to assume he is saying that taking 12 weeks of time off after birthing a couple of kids will ruin your career.


The reason I think pregnancy falls into the category of absence he describes if because he only talks about women making family v. work choices. And pregnancy is the only part of parenting where men aren’t - at least theoretically - implicated as well. But, even if he’s not referring to pregnancy, as I said in the forums:
Presumably Welch’s comments are addressed soley to women because he assumes that only women are in a position to "choose" to take time off. They are not. Everyone struggles with balance. Women’s struggles are described as the product of choice . But men? Whether they’re working, taking time off, or balancing the two, it’s a product of necessity. Wherever they are -  they’re in the clutch. 
The perception of women’s work/life balance as the product of choice as opposed to a man’s as the product of necessity is, I think, inherent in his comments and inherently sexist.   


I agree with you that his comments are sexist. But, based on what I know of what he said—I still think he is right.
With that said, his comments are equally "right" if applied to men.
One reason why I think the work/life balance issue continues to be a woman’s issue is because of the feminist myth that we can have it all.  I am a child of the 70s/80s and was certainly a believer in the notion that I could have it all.  In retrospect, I thought that I could have it all in the sense that I could be a mother just as my mother was and also a professional just like many of the men in my life were.  (I would say a professional just as my father was, but I actually aspired to be more successful than my father.)  In truth, that definition of "all" is, in fact, not possible—not humanly possible and not just for me as a woman but also if I were a man.  The difference is that I think boys aspired to be the fathers their dads were as well as the professionals that their dads were, something wholly possible since they didn’t count on being able to live two lives in one lifetime like we girls did.
The gender bias in our society remains because girls aren’t programmed to be everything their dads are.  We are programmed to be much more than that and many influencers spend great amounts of effort telling young girls that it is possible.  The realization that it isn’t possible is a huge blow to an ambitious woman and often leads to constant angst about choices that aren’t really choices.

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