The ABA Weekly reported today that Jack Welch, former General Electric CEO, told an audience at Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference that “there is no such thing as work-life balance” and women who take time off for family will have a tough time climbing the corporate ladder.
Statements like these make me bristle. I will not dispute that taking time off for family (or for any other endeavor, for that matter) has obvious consequences — regardless of the career and regardless of gender. But just when it seems that progress is being made, with more women staying in the workforce, having fulfilling family lives and progressing up the precarious rungs of the damn ladder that was undoubtedly crafted by someone with the limited vision of only “up or down”, a general pronouncement from the likes of Jack Welch comes along and moves us back decades. Not because what he is saying is not true, but because he is reporting the obvious as if he is disseminating a new revelation – and the more that revelation is repeated, the more people stretch it, exaggerate it, rely on it and accept it as a foregone conclusion.
Does Mr. Welch seriously think that women are unaware of the fact that their careers fare better when they are at work rather than not? Or that it’s news that there are consequences for every choice made, or that it is difficult to make it to the top of a company? Women know this, have accepted this and are plowing forward in spite of this. But pronouncing it during an interview with ABC’s Claire Shipman in front of an HR conference does not provide any new information to the public. It entrenches the concept as gospel. It sends a message to women that no matter how hard they try or think changes are occurring, it isn’t worth it because nothing will change – least of all, the perceptions of white-haired-white-men still occupying the vast majority of corner offices. And what message does it send to men? Don’t bother trying to foster change by being progressive within your own companies, and go right ahead and discount, from the get go, any woman who takes maternity leave or any other extended time off for family purposes. After all, she’s been warned by Jack!
Would it be appropriate if I made what also might be construed as a remarkably obvious revelation? Jack doesn’t know jack about jack.