Friday, July 17, 2009

Babies or work, but not both? Wrong.

This isn't the first time someone has suggested this, but former GE CEO Jack Welch recently said that if women want to get ahead in the work place, they basically have to choose between their careers and having kids. He was speaking at the Society for Human Resource Management's annual conference, and had some blunt words to share:
  • "There's no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences."
  • "We'd love to have more women moving up faster. But they've got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one."
  • Taking time off for family "can offer a nice life, but the chances of going to the top on that path" are smaller. "That doesn't mean you can't have a nice career," he added.
You know, I understand anyone who takes a long time off work will have a harder time advancing in their careers than someone who doesn't miss a year, or five years, or whatever. My question is, does Welch (or anyone) consider maternity leave as "taking time off for family?" He's not very specific. But look at the language he uses: "But they've got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one." Sounds to me like "you can have kids, but be warned you'll be 'punished' for it in the workplace."

This logic boggles my mind. I'm not a fan of either/or. (For full disclosure, I am not a mother.) Either have kids, or go far in your career. There are countless examples of women who do both, so Welch is automatically wrong anyway. But to speak at a big convention, one that no doubt had a number of women in high-ranking positions in attendance, and share these outdated thoughts is irresponsible and harmful. Does Welch say these things to the women in his own life? Instead of criticism, why not show some respect for women who try to do both?

Let's say that Welch is right, it is one or the other. What kind of society is that? One with either a lot fewer working women, especially in top jobs, or one with a lot fewer kids in it. It's in everyone's best interest, men and women, to have women working, with successful careers, without a fear of getting off track because they have children. This isn't to say it's easy, or that it's for every woman out there; absolutely there is nothing wrong with choosing to be a non-working mother, or holding a "regular" job while being a mother, and there's nothing wrong with not being a mother. What works for one woman isn't going to work for another, and I think that's the point. Making blanket statements that allude to some dire career consequence for having children is simply not true.

In this economy, more women than ever before are either the sole income earners in their households, or are the biggest income earners. We should be doing what we can to support women in the workplace, including those that "dare" have kids. Telling women they can't "have it all" doesn't do that, and my guess is for every man that suggests as much, there will be a woman out there proving you wrong. Even if she is getting paid less than you.


Razor said...

Jack Welch is just another corporate asshole who contributed to the creation of the culture that got us into this economic mess.

Obscene executive pay, golden parachutes, global warming denier, helped further the deregulation of media... this guy might as well go for the Republican nomination in 2012, he certainly fits right in.

nikki d. said...

Boy, this just fries my ass. If anything, as a new mom with a three-month old, I take MORE pride in my work now! Motherhood has given me confidence that I could never have gotten in the field yet I can use it now in my field to stomp the little blowhards like this guy running around. Yeah, me! Two weeks back from maternity leave and I've already received a 5-star review above all the other (all male) designers (who have no children!)Bwaaahhhaaaaa! Welch is clearly intimidated by the fact that a woman can handle a successful career and (gasp!) raising children.

RMJ said...

So women should not work to support their families? Is that what I'm understanding from Mr. Welch?

Admin said...

As a woman in an upper-level management position, I just can't imagine having kids. I have no idea how women in such positions are able to do it. I suppose that they might have an unconventional man who assists with raising the children.

It's unfortunate.

I'm given a guilt trip even if I take one or two damn days off; I can't imagine taking time off for maternity leave. But it seems that the men have no problems with taking their many vacations. In fact, its to the point that I am already backed into a corner-they have higher expectations for me than they do for women who don't have children, and if I ever decide to have children then they'll expect me to keep up the same pace.

Rosie said...

Nikki, congrats on that review!

RMJ, I don't think he's saying women shouldn't work at all. Just that they shouldn't expect to get far if they take time off for kids.

Miss Unconventional, I can't imagine it either, and I'm amazed by the women who pull it off. Definitely not easy. Great point you made though about higher expectations for you than those with children, I think there's a lot of that in the workplace, along with other forms of dissimilar treatment among those with and without kids. (Got kids? You're getting holidays off before people who don't at my workplace.)

Admin said...

Exactly, in fact, last week a lady asked for three weeks off because she had to do something with her daughter. My boss said, "You have to do what you have to do with your family". Today I asked for two weeks off and he made me change my dates three times because he "needs me" at certain things. Bullshit. (disclaimer: I'm definitely not stating that women in the workplace have it easy).


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