July 13, 2009
Jack Welch, Grumpy Old Man? "There's No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance."
Posted by Christine Hurt

About a million years ago, Dana Carvey played "the grumpy old man" on SNL, "and we liked it!"  This WSJ article makes me wonder if Jack Welch was doing a grumpy old man impression at a human resources convention or whether he's just trying to wake people up.  Apparently, Welch (a University of Illinois alumni) was pretty blunt:  "There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences."  He gave as examples the female CEOs of ADM and DuPont who had "pretty straight careers" without taking time off for family.

Wow.  That's some cocktail party conversation.  Lots of scattered thoughts here.

1.    There are 100 CEOs of Fortune 100 firms.  Now, for the other 6 billion of us.  There are different ways to "have it all," and having a rich family life and being one of the top dogs at a huge conglomerate that's been around for a hundred years and probably has a strong corporate culture is one way.  But there are others.  I can imagine women creating their own path at a lot of other firms with different norms.  I like to read Mommy CEO blog sometimes, by a female CEO of a software company.  At our little corner of legal academia, we wonder a lot about women attorneys making partner, or even managing partner.  These are accomplishments that may constitute what Mr. Welch refers to as a "nice career," but maybe not what he thinks of as "the top."

2.    Of course, we know he's right, and that's the worst part.  In a lot of jobs, in a lot of places, individuals wanting to get to the top of whatever type of career ladder have to make difficult choices.  The toughest part of this next phase of career equality is realizing that yes, we can all now be anything we want to be, but maybe not everything we want to be.  As Mr. Welch points out, sometimes opportunity comes when you have suited up and shown up, and if you have taken time off, you just aren't there.

3.    This all brings me back to my old saw about "opt-in" programs, not "opt-out" programs.  Mr. Welch seems to be talking about women who are "taking time off for family;" presumably through extended leaves or maybe a part-time or reduced hours arrangement.  So, yes, the benefits we keep asking for aren't going to help -- but benefits that allow us to opt in (telecommuting technology, on-site daycare, ability to travel with family), these will.  In today's world, corporate actors are there "in the clutches" via Blackberry and iPhone from airports and far-flung cities anyway.  I can be "in the clutches" from Little League, no problem.

4,    Other thoughts?

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