… the more they remain the same?
A woman can be a good mommy. Or she can be a good CEO. But never both.
That was the message from Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, in a recent speech that rightly ignited a firestorm in the press and the blogosphere. It wasn’t just that he said that for women, life itself is one big choice. That’s kind of what we’ve been saying here. But he defined that choice in mid-century terms:
Women can have a family. Or a successful career. But gee whiz, they can’t have both. Work-life balance? All a pipe-dream, girls.
(Funny. No one ever says men can’t have both. But that’s another story.)
Still. As offputting as Welch’s comments were, could they hint at one source of the angst felt by young women who DO want it all — but are still being told it can never work? Is it any wonder that analysis paralysis steps in when women believe that they must decide between career and family?
And is this either/or business a false choice?
Back in the day, of course, women didn’t even have the choice. It was often made for them by well-meaning males in bad suits who were allowed to ask rude questions – and make hiring decisions based on the answers.
Case in point: A few years out of college, I took a test for a management training program for a large corporation. Never mind the name. I scored high, made it through the first round of interviews, and then ran up against a smug middle-manager who asked:
What did my husband do? (Strike one)
Isn’t it likely that I might be moving if he got a better job somewhere else? (Strike two)
And, once his career took off, wouldn’t I be eager to start a family? (Strike three)
And out. On my way to the door, this guy said something to the effect that management training was a costly process, so surely I could understand why they would be reluctant to risk all that money on someone: Who. Might. Leave.
All of which is to show how far we’ve come. But, as Welch’s comments clearly show, we’ve got a ways to go.
Making the case in the Washington Post that American companies need more senior women, Womenomics authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman wrote:
Professional women have been leaving the workplace in droves, and we need to stop the brain drain. Recent studies show that almost a third of professional women opt out at some point in their careers and, strikingly, that MBAs are more likely than lawyers or doctors to choose to stay home with their children.
Beyond a certain point, many women find that the costs to family of a high-octane career are just too great. We need to recognize that the glass ceiling is in part a self-imposed, defensive perimeter. But we can’t afford to have women take themselves out of the running for top slots. And the only way to prevent that is changing the workplace to allow us the freedom to fit in our personal lives.