Monday, July 27, 2009

Antiquated Notions of Women in the Workplace

My feathers were officially flustered when I read in a Wall Street Journal article that last month, Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, stood up at a human resources conference to declare that, "There's no such thing as a work-life balance." He went on to say that there are work-life choices and that these choices have consequences and then explained that a woman's choice to have a family makes career advancement a near impossibility.

This kind of thinking makes me want to scream. As a young girl who grew up being taught that I can have it all, I want it all. And I know people who have had successful careers and raised a family. One being my mother.

Coming from an upper-middle class family in a affluent suburb of Chicago, having a working mother wasn't something I saw a lot growing up. Most of my friend's mothers stayed at home and raised their children, but I lived in a different household. My mother and father both worked and I know for a fact my mother loved what she did. She was a writer and editor and was lucky enough later on in her career (when me and my sister were in middle school) to be able to work from home or sometimes just part-time so she was around more, but she still managed to work for some very high profile companies and raise us. And no, I don't recall her ever really being absent. In my eyes she was a superwoman - someone who worked in an office, made my dinner, helped me with my homework, and planned charity events in her spare time. But I know she always made time for us first and foremost.

And while my mother was never a CEO, there are women out there today who are wonderful role models to us women who do want it all in life - including a corner office. Julie Menin wrote an article for the Huffington Post, citing strong women such as Liz Lange, who started a maternity clothing line while raising two children and fighting cervical cancer, and Campbell Brown who hosts a national cable news show while raising her children. And to use examples of working mothers in my own life: I've had two females bosses, one the CEO of a private company and the other the Editor-in-Chief of a magazine, both of whom had children and successful careers.

I agree with Welch in that yes, we have to make sacrifices to have both career and family. Maybe you will have to put your kids in day care, or maybe you will have to tele-commute one day a week to make it work. But it can be done! I disagree that it is something that we women can't have both. I do believe we can have it all.

So thank you to Welch for putting another roadblock in our way. Much appreciated. But really, it just makes me more motivated to prove him wrong. Sure it's a tricky balancing act, but it's something I am willing to try. (Don't worry Dad! I don't plan on cranking any kids out soon! I mean in the future...the verrrrry far future!).

19 comments:

Ashley said...

I'm looking forward to you proving him wrong. There are too many mothers out there who have fantastic careers. How about J.K. Rowling? She's a mother who also spent a great deal of time writing some of the most popular books of our time and is now one of the richest people in the world.

Not only mothers take maternity leave any more. There are plenty of jobs that offer men maternity leave. Sure the time away may delay any advance, but it doesn't prevent it. Jack Welch is just an old man who obviously hasn't left the 1930s. It's sad that there are people who still think in this manner.

Big Red said...

Amen sister! I am so pissed off at what he said, especially because it is not true, as your own mother proves and as you will prove. I feel like a lot of men don't understand what it means to be a working parent, because they think that being a good dad is just "bringing home the bacon." And you know what, he does a great dis-service to a lot of men who are actively raising their children, whether with their spouse or on their own.

More employers need to recognize that families and a personal life for those with or without kids, are more important in life that the bottom line. A happy home-life breeds a happy employee.

Amanda said...

Well...I don't know. I can totally understand why his comments would ruffle feathers, but I agree with some of the spirit of his point. People talk about "work/life balance" as if "work" and "life" are two utterly different things, when i reality, work is just a part of life. So to say there is not such thing as work/life balance--rather, it all exists as work/life choices-- I think there is at least some philosophical truth to that. I also think that when we talk about 'having it all' we need to be careful--sure, we can have a little bit of everything, but the more we add into the mix- marriage, kids, job--it is inevitable that each aspect gets a smaller piece of the pie. That's just math. It doesn't mean you have to choose between being motherhood and a career, but you do have to realize the more tasks you add to your life list, the thinner you will inevitably spread yourself, and you have to be prepared for it and not whine about how hard it is to 'have it all'.

Jessie said...

couldn't agree with you more!!!

A Dilettante's Perspective said...

It seems like Mr. Welch just doesn't have a home life. Probably never did.

Girl About Business said...

I completely agree with you- I want it all as well, and I've been persistent in fulfilling my destiny. That includes wanting a family!

My mom did it all for me, ALONE! She didn't have the most affluent job and we didn't live in the best neighborhood, but she did what she had to do as a woman to ensure that I turned out to be a great asset to society.

She didn't give up anything, and she worked hard to and moved up in whatever job that she had! Sometimes even working 2 jobs at a time. She's inspired me to work just as hard for myself and my family!

Mel-Rox said...

As it stands right now, I make about $35+k more a year than my husband. Granted he is in the military and his pay is limited to rank etc. But he is due to get out in October. He wants to go to school full time and with his pending medical retirement (he's still in his 20's) from the military and the new GI Bill he can do so and still bring in a certain amount of income. We have discussed having a family numerous times.

I am NOT a stay at home person and will never be. If I were to get pregnant we have made the decision that he will be a stay at home Dad until he finishes his degree. It makes NO sense for us to give up $1000+ a month for child care for an infant or for me to give up my career and paycheck.

It's the ideas of men that view a woman with a child as a hinderance. Maybe if more men would step up and be real Father's they wouldn't have such a differing opinion.

Anonymous said...

I think he made a good point. You can't have two priorities. You can have a priority.

To think that a person (man or woman) that puts the needs of their family/child before work will expect to advance at the same rate that a single person who puts work first is not reality.

Every person and situation is different but at the end of the day it is probably near-impossible to always be able to make choices that allow you to be the best employee AND the best parent.

I don't think you'll prove him right or wrong and I don't care. I don't think it's a discriminatory comment. It's reality. You (man, woman, whoever) can't have it all. You can probably come close, but we ALL can't have it ALL.

I don't understand the ruffling of feathers. :)

And I don't understand the attacks at Jack Welch, a person I've never met or talked to in my life (have you?) and have only heard of before this blog post because I watched 30 Rock. :) So he doesn't agree with you. Wow, does that mean he's automatically a woman-hating monster? I don't agree with you either and find the 'girl-power' stuff a little eye-rolling but I will probably add this blog to my rss reader after this initial visit because I like what I see otherwise.

-Working woman due in October.

Hi, Lane said...

Absolutely. I plan on taking over my MOTHER's business, that my dad is employed at. She raised 3 children at the same time & I plan to have a family, two pets, a boat, season football tickets, etc. Rock on for playing just as hard as we work.

Magic City College Girl said...

great post. i hate when people think that way. i dont care what anyone says. we can have it all. thats what i want to do in the future. i want to own my own business. i dont like that stay at home mom thing. its fine for those that want to do it but i feel that i can be a better role model to my kids but not just staying home but by working and doing things and showing them achievement.

imerika said...

I used to think women who stayed at home were wasting away their education, but the truth and reality you can't deny is that women CAN'T have it all, without at least one aspect--whether it be marriage, children, job--suffering. You can try and prove him wrong, you can work as hard as you want to have it all, but in attempting to be superwoman, I think you'll find yourself extremely exhausted. Most of the women used as examples who have "had it all" had flexible jobs where they could work from home. Except maybe the editor-in-chief of the magazine...you can't tell me her kids didn't suffer just a little bit.
I wrote my own post about my inner feminist/mommy battle, so I'll just leave it at this before it gets too long...bottom line: I don't think what he said is sexist...especially when it's the truth.

Sockit2me said...

EVERYTHING!!...you heard me ...Everything in life is a trade off....YIN YANG....everything!

thegirlin3k said...

I agree with other commenters that there is ALWAYS a trade off. My mother and father always worked full-time and my mom started her own business when I was in middle school. She struggled with the fact that she couldn't be at every activity or for every milestone of her children's lives. But as she told me, and continues to tell me, she was and is a better mother because she worked. Balance is about choices and figuring out what works for you.

Working Girl Two said...

I think the point I was trying to make was that yes, of course we're going to have to make sacrifices but it's all about balancing both. Welch said there is no balance between the two, thereby making it nearly impossible for women to have both a family and career. I think, especially in these days, that it is possible to "balance" career and family for both a man or a woman. The thing is that I see men do it all the time - they have a family and a job. What makes it any different for a woman?

Of course you're going to have to sometimes make sacrifices to make it work, but that is life. To say that I can't have both to me is an antiquated idea.

Katie said...

It's not just about our mothers, and us, though. It's also about our fathers and the men we marry (if we choose to.)

Mrs. B said...

seriously?... "me and my sister"?

The Intellectual Diva said...

In a city where people pull 36 hour work days...I don't know... He might be on to something.

V said...

I am a former career mom, turned stay at home mama due to the recession. I devoted years to a VERY distinguished publishing group; and I can tell you with sincerity that there is NO balance. You have to have one priority, or your work or home life will suffer. It's selfish - and
probably endemic of our generation's way of thinking
- to demand both. I mean really, it's unfair to the employer to insist on a balance because you cannot do it all. Either work, and have a good support system at home - or don't work.

And WG2, THIS type of attitude is why men (especially antiquated ones!) lack respect for women. I don't hear my husband demanding a work / life balance; and yet he does HALF of the child rearing and housework!

We're in a recession, so be cautious when expressing the "have it all" attitude, because there are many people that would acquiesce and just have work!!

Forgive any errors in typing: I'm out on my "once a week break," as most moms can appeciate.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I didn't see this post until now. I think you're a little off base here in this post. I certainly don't appriciate a man telling a woman what she can and cannot have, it's important to have an understanding of what is realistic.

My father is a vice-president at a fortune 500 company and my mom is a high level account manager there as well. Needless to say I spent a lot of time eating dinner without them and understanding that they could not attend all of sporting/school events growing up. I certainly don't resent them for this, I understand that they were doing it to provide us with a very comfortable lifestyle. If anything it's given me a realistic outlook on what I want in life and what sacrifices I migth have to make.

The few examples you provided are extrodinary examples that had a lot of help along the way. They are not your average executive who has had to make their own way and not rely on money or ties. There's nothing wrong with not 'having it all' as you say. In fact, I think once you accept that you can't have it all you'll find a better balance.

Also side note, as a fellow Chicago-ian (not orginally from here, moved after school was done) nothing annoys me more than when the many people that grew up in the suburbs and feel the need to mention their affluent surroundings. I don't know why people from the suburbs seem to think that this is necessary to consistently point out, but they do. There are pleanty of mother's from non-fluent surroundings that work full time, as well as pleanty that stay home. To insinuate that only people from Shauuuuuuumberg (or the like)are assumtomed to the way that you grew up is not only insulting but irritating to hear. It was in no need necessary to tell you story, and after living here for several years it still baffles my mind why so many people do this (not just you). Just saying is all.