Female Execs Horrified By Former GE CEO's Comments

Jack Welch women at workIs Jack Welch, the former General Electric CEO, a timeless seer or an out-of-date warhorse? The Wall Street Journal recently posed that question, but the the answer is simple: He's an out-of-date warhorse.

The occasion for the question was a Journal-sponsored conference on Women in the Economy. Welch doesn't think much of women's networks ("victims' units") or mentoring programs ("you should see everyone as your mentor"); instead, women should just work hard, over-perform and
that will take them straight to the board. When asked if there were any questions, a woman executive in the crowd reportedly shouted out, "We're regaining our consciousness."

What Welch didn't seem to appreciate was that women have been doing that for decades -- and the number of women at the top table has scarcely budged. [See excerpts from his comments in the video below.] The world may look meritocratic to Neutron Jack but to women it looks as biased and old-fashioned as he does. Welch has never been sensitive to, or shown any awareness of, these issues. This is, after all, a man who in his memoirs talked about what fun it was to go into the office on Saturday morning and hang out with the guys. He's always been contemptuous of the concept of work/life balance and the degree to which external commitments may drive internal performance. He's apparently oblivious to the scientific data that shows putting in hours doesn't improve results. Instead, what's become increasingly clear, is that Welch's core competence was managing his stock price -- a very different business indeed from managing productivity.

The truth of the matter is that, these days, everyone busts a gut to over-perform; that's an entry-level requirement. Networks, connections and mentors still make a very big difference. So too does the mental model which most CEOs and chairmen have of what success looks like;
overwhelmingly to most business leaders, it looks male not female, which is why only 6 percent of VC-backed startups are run by women. We would all like to inhabit a world where all that matters is the work, but we're don't.

If all that mattered was the work, women at Harvard Business School wouldn't have to worry about being ranked according to their physique. Nor would they have to handle games like "Kill, F*** or Marry" in which male students name the women in their classes that they would most like to murder, have intercourse with or wed. In case Welch doesn't quite understand, activities like this create what we call a hostile work environment and it isn't a great incentive or performance enhancer.

If all that mattered was work, we wouldn't continue to have perennial articles about the shortage of women in senior positions in Silicon Valley and we wouldn't be subjected to the misogyny of Path's VP of business development Matt Horn who thinks the way to get a great job is to email bikini shots from nudie calendars to prospective employers. Companies like Sqoot wouldn't think the way to attract great programmers is by advertising "friendly female event staff" and we wouldn't even have a phrase like 'brogrammer' to sum up casually sexist computer coders.

To do well in a career, of course, women have to work hard, yes, but we also have to work within a culture that takes us seriously. Unbeknownst to Jack Welch, that can be quite hard to find. Frankly, if he were working for me these days, I'd throw him out for not having done his homework, having no peripheral vision and being a lazy thinker.

Jack Welch on Women in the Economy

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