Jack Welch to women: Work and family don’t mix

The former CEO of GE says that if you want to get to the top, forget about that "work-life balance"

Topics: Family, How the World Works,

Being a man, I wasn’t quite sure how to react to the Wall Street Journal’s report of a speech given by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch to the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference on June 28. I would guess that for the women in the audience, who made up the majority of attendees, it must have been something of a downer.

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance,” Mr. Welch [said]. “There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

Mr. Welch said those who take time off for family could be passed over for promotions if “you’re not there in the clutch.”

“The women who have reached the top of Archer Daniels, of DuPont, I know these women. They’ve had pretty straight careers,” he said in an interview with journalist Claire Shipman, before thousands of HR specialists.

“We’d love to have more women moving up faster,” Mr. Welch said. “But they’ve got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one.”

I’m sure that corporate-minded women can speak for themselves on this topic. Christine Hurt, blogging at the Conglomerate, has a nuanced take. And the Journal’s two female reporters, Cari Tuna and Joann S. Lublin, did get a wide variety of reactions to Welch’s comments from women.



But being a man, I’ll tell you what Welch’s comments mean to me. By his definition, every man who has risen to the top of the corporate ladder has sacrificed his family for his career. By being “there in the clutch” they’ve not been there for the sick kid or the softball game or the dance performance. Of course men have it easier, since if they want kids they can outsource the job of actually bearing them to a sidekick and don’t have to worry about figuring out how the breast pump works. But those are just technicalities.

Of course we all make choices with consequences as we go about crafting our careers and balancing them with other priorities in our lives. But to interpret Welch’s words as a harsh message for women is to miss his real point. Denying that there is a possibility for a “work-life balance” is a bummer for the entire human race.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 10
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie

    A contemporary romantic comedy set to Elvis Costello and lots of luxurious and sinful sugary treats.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Welcome to Temptation" by Jennifer Crusie

    Another of Crusie's romantic comedies, this one in the shadow of an ostentatiously phallic water tower.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "A Gentleman Undone" by Cecilia Grant

    A Regency romance with beautifully broken people and some seriously steamy sex.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Black Silk" by Judith Ivory

    A beautifully written, exquisitely slow-building Regency; the plot is centered on a box with some very curious images, as Edward Gorey might say.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "For My Lady's Heart" by Laura Kinsale

    A medieval romance, the period piece functions much like a dystopia, with the courageous lady and noble knight struggling to find happiness despite the authoritarian society.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Sweet Disorder" by Rose Lerner

    A Regency that uses the limitations on women of the time to good effect; the main character is poor and needs to sell her vote ... or rather her husband's vote. But to sell it, she needs to get a husband first ...   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Frenemy of the People" by Nora Olsen

    Clarissa is sitting at an awards banquet when she suddenly realizes she likes pictures of Kimye for both Kim and Kanye and she is totally bi. So she texts to all her friends, "I am totally bi!" Drama and romance ensue ... but not quite with who she expects. I got an advanced copy of this YA lesbian romance, and I’d urge folks to reserve a copy; it’s a delight.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "The Slightest Provocation" by Pam Rosenthal

    A separated couple works to reconcile against a background of political intrigue; sort of "His Gal Friday" as a spy novel set in the Regency.   Read the whole essay.

    Romance novels need a canon

    "Again" by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

    Set among workers on a period soap opera, it manages to be contemporary and historical both at the same time.   Read the whole essay.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>