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Elisa Batista's picture

Former General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jack Welch gave a bummer of a speech to the Society for Human Resource Management's annual conference on June 28. In it, he had some harsh words for women, ahem, mothers:

"'There's no such thing as work-life balance,' Mr. Welch [said]. 'There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.'

Mr. Welch said those who take time off for family could be passed over for promotions if 'you're not there in the clutch.'

'The women who have reached the top of Archer Daniels, of DuPont, I know these women. They've had pretty straight careers,' he said in an interview with journalist Claire Shipman, before thousands of HR specialists.

'We'd love to have more women moving up faster,' Mr. Welch said. 'But they've got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one.'"

The speech was originally covered in the Wall Street Journal. Because the newspaper charges for online access, I received most of my information from Salon's Andrew Leonard who was thoughtful in his approach to this topic:

"But being a man, I'll tell you what Welch's comments mean to me. By his definition, every man who has risen to the top of the corporate ladder has sacrificed his family for his career. By being 'there in the clutch' they've not been there for the sick kid or the softball game or the dance performance. Of course men have it easier, since if they want kids they can outsource the job of actually bearing them to a sidekick and don't have to worry about figuring out how the breast pump works. But those are just technicalities.

Of course we all make choices with consequences as we go about crafting our careers and balancing them with other priorities in our lives. But to interpret Welch's words as a harsh message for women is to miss his real point. Denying that there is a possibility for a 'work-life balance' is a bummer for the entire human race."

First of all, whenever I read these stories especially from the point of view of Fortune 500 CEOs, I think it fails to take into consideration the workforce changes due to employees who want a life outside of work. Small businesses, for example, many which are headed by mothers, now make up almost 45 percent of private payroll, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 2000, when the country was experiencing record-economic growth, small businesses actually employed more private sector workers than large corporations, according to a report by the Clinton Administration, which also cited statistics by SBA.

Technology such as the Internet, cell phones, pagers, conference calls and telecommuting policies were not only introduced to increase worker productivity but are conducive to the lives of working parents, or children of elderly parents, or sick workers, or workers who simply need to step away from their desks. Honestly, it seems like the Jack Welches are the ones having a hard time letting go.

Of course, a worker who puts in 80 hours a week on the job and can travel at a moment's notice because he has a spouse at home picking up the slack can soar higher in the workplace than a working mother who "chooses" to attend her kid's soccer games. But as Leonard pointed out, is this the standard we want to create for human beings? How about hiring more people and dividing up the work more equitably? Not only would it be a boom for the economy, but the workforce would represent the population, many of whom are parents.

What say you about Jack Welch's speech?

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