Oh Mr. Welch! Myths of Women in Business


Former General Electric CEO and business guru Jack Welch stepped in "it" earlier this summer when he gave a speech that, to a number of women, seemed condescending and out of touch. Linda Brotherton, CTO at ConnectWise, offers some thoughts on Welch's comments, and on dealing with antiquated thinking among colleagues. —Jennifer Bosavage, editor

Oh Jack, did you say what you meant and did you mean what you said?

Jack Welch and his wife and writing partner, Suzy Welch, back in May, told a gathering of women executives from a range of industries that, in matters of career track, it is results and performance that chart the way. Programs promoting diversity, mentorships and affinity groups may or may not be good, but they are not how women in the workplace get ahead.

Related: IT Is No Longer a Man's World – So Where are All the Women?

“Over deliver,” Mr. Welch advised. “Performance is it!” Angry murmurs ran through the crowd. The speakers asked: Were there any questions? “We’re regaining our consciousness,” one woman executive shot back.

My immediate reaction was that women in the workplace were being told that they have to work harder than men to be considered equal. But, is that really what was meant by the statement? Couldn’t the same speech regarding to “taking on the hard assignments and having superior performance in order to get ahead” be directed at a group of men as well? No doubt, this is how Jack got to the top in the corporate world. He joined GE in 1960 and by 1981 he was GE’s youngest chairman and CEO.

Welch could definitely be considered to have a biased view on women in the workplace, but, remember, this is a man who was born in 1935. He is from a different time and generation. I doubt that he ever even saw a female manager early in his career. His comments come from his own life experiences. Working hard and over-achieving is what he knows. Work life balance? For him, that would have never existed (or been considered).

Rather than expending a lot of energy and conversation on views from past generations, I think that we should take a more positive approach and focus on the future. Look past today and see what is already changing. Work-life balance is now becoming more important to the next generation for both men and women. Many young men are raised by women who work and contribute heavily to the family income or completely support the household. The newer generations will have a different perspective from that of Mr. Welch.

Let’s focus on our own area, the IT space. Much has been written about mentoring groups in companies for women but reality is that we don’t get enough young women to even consider careers in IT. Mentoring for us must start at a much earlier age. How do we change the perception that engineering is “just for boys”? How do we plant the seed that “Yes, this is a valid career choice"?

Only by breaking through those barriers can gender balance be achieved in our field. Collectively, we need to focus our energies there, and find opportunities to present in schools and organizations where we can show that women do have successful careers in IT — and you can too. To show that a career in the ever-changing field of technology is not only an option, but it is also an excellent choice.