Jack Welch vs. Feminists: The Dumb Debate Over Female CEOs

Women have more flexibility than men to write their own destiny.

General Electric CEO Jack Welch ignited a firestorm recently when he told female executives that to become top dogs (like him), they have to toughen up. “Over-deliver,” he lectured. “Performance is it.” Forget about “life balance.” A couple of women walked out—and others have since condemned him as “spectacularly stupid.”

Nasty though this spat was, it masks a fundamental agreement between Welch and his feminist detractors: They both regard the paucity of female CEOs as something regrettable needing correction. But if there’s anything regrettable here, it’s that so many men in the 21st century are still reflexively busting their derrières for the pleasure of parking them in the C-Suite.

There is no doubt that women executives are a rare breed. Only 3 percent of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs—the same as in the tech companies of the young, dynamic, multiethnic world of Silicon Valley.

Feminists blame this on enduring sexism in the workplace. And there is no question that sexism is a real problem. I can’t think of a single woman (myself included) who has worked in a male-dominated environment and not felt that she must work extra-hard to prove herself before she is taken seriously, something men rarely encounter. That might discourage some women. But for most, that’s not the main obstacle to climbing the corporate ladder to the topmost rung.

The truth is that corporations are just no fun. They require insane hours, adherence to rigid hierarchies, mind-numbing work and a taste for political maneuvering that would put Machiavelli to shame. It’s not that women can’t hack it. They can. A recent survey by Harvard Business Review found that women executives are rated higher than male executives by their superiors and colleagues in 12 of the 16 competencies that constitute outstanding leadership—including supposed male fortes like “taking initiative” and “driving for results.”

It’s just that women don’t like it. Most women with options (and contenders for top executive jobs certainly have options) don’t think that a fat corporate paycheck is worth sacrificing their home and family. Women would much rather run their own lives on their own terms than the rest of the world on someone else’s.

The first to point this out was journalist and blogger Lisa Belkin in a 2003 New York Times article. Although women made up roughly half of the student body of professional programs in elite universities and were recruited by top firms in all fields, Belkin found, they had a tiny presence in higher corporate echelons. And the reason was that somewhere along the way, the lure of a high-powered job simply vanished for them, something she dubbed the “opt-out revolution.” (Belkin, herself a Princeton graduate, had given up a full-time position as a staff writer and aspirations to one day run the Times for a part-time gig and children.)

For her efforts, Belkin was pilloried as factually wrong, emotionally deluded and, worst of all, a “choice feminist,” a dirty word reserved in some feminist circles for women who betray the cause of gender equality for the sake of their own personal fulfillment. But the “opt-out revolution” has marched on. Companies have been trying to boost the ranks of female executives by re-examining their promotion policies; offering greater workplace flexibility; and implementing mentoring programs (which Welch rightly ridicules as institutionalized victimhood). But a National Science Foundation study two years ago found that female executives remain twice as likely to leave as males. And census data shows that the rate of stay-at-home moms has grown from 19.4 percent in 1994 to 23.7 percent in 2009.

Gender-equality feminists regard this as a travesty. But that take is as dumb as Welch’s. Just because women are not assuming their rightful place in the patriarchal power structure doesn’t mean that they are returning to the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. Rather, they are striving for a higher balance based on their own inner needs and strengths. And they are able to do this because they have allowed the feminist revolution to liberate them from the stigma against working women—without letting it consign them to a life of wage slavery.

It is unfortunate that men haven’t experienced something equivalent that would liberate them from traditional role expectations and allow them to make unorthodox life choices for a more fulfilled and self-actualized existence. Men remain psychologically wired for worldly success. But it’s unclear whether it’s their inner needs that are driving them or external social expectations.

If feminists were honest, they’d acknowledge that this state of affairs really presents the best of all possible worlds for women. Should men, liberated from social expectations, decide that they too prefer to stay at home rather than remain stuck in soul-crushing jobs, women will have to pick up the slack or pare back their lifestyles. Either way, they’d lose the social and psychological space they currently have to write their own destiny. This might be equitable and fair, but it won’t necessarily be good for women.

As for Welch, if he weren’t so impressed with himself, he’d realize that women have negotiated a far better deal for themselves than men in the modern world. He’d exhort men to question their priorities, instead of hectoring women to embrace his single-track notions of success.

He is a Neanderthal, all right—but not for the reason feminists think.

Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia is a columnist at The Daily, where this column originally appeared.

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  • ||

    Isn't he the former CEO?

  • jester||

    Doesn't matter. You're a lifer once in. Doubtful someone just wanting to bask in the light for a spell would ever get in. Natural selection, I declare!

  • Drake||

    Why is it regrettable that so many men in the 21st century are still reflexively busting their derrieres for the pleasure of parking them in the C-Suite?

    What kind of commie crap is this? Everyone makes their career choices and their family choices. Why should we care?

  • WTF||

    Everyone makes their career choices and their family choices. Why should we care?

    Because it looks bad for womyns when their preferred choices render them largely absent from CEO positions.

  • Drake||

    Only looks bad to ignorant journalist womyn. Those who work in corporations see what it takes break into the executive ranks. Most decide it isn't worth it (most men, too).

  • TheAtomicOption||

    "womyn" isn't a word.

  • TheAtomicOption||

    This. It's definitely sad if a man is *unhappily* spending his entire life at work, but if that's what he feels is the option he wants, there's nothing *wrong* with being "unbalanced".

    Also Jack Welch is RIGHT. If your goal is to be a top CEO, having "balance" is something you're going to have to give up. It's definitely not for everyone, but he didn't say it was.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I blame Don Draper.

  • ||

    I certainly look to impossibly handsome men who drink and whore around for my career cues

  • Monty Crisco||

    I blame George W Bush!

  • Longtorso||

    I certainly look to impossibly handsome men who drink and whore around for my career cues

  • ||

    As for Welch, if he weren't so impressed with himself, he'd realize that women have negotiated a far better deal for themselves than men in the modern world.

    Yep. And we smell better too

  • ||

    And we smell better too

    In my line of work, I have found this to be demonstrably untrue.

    I'm sure you are ensconced in a perpetual aromatic aura of golden wattles, however, IFH. That and the sweet smell of grill char.

  • ||

    mmm, charred meat... actually i smell of this more often than not

  • ||

    Not familiar with that particular perfume...

    IFH! You spunky sheila you! I have an idea! Imagine this...scratch and sniff computer screens for perfumes, like a specialized nook, or for restaurants. You could get an idea of how the food smells, since the olfactory influences taste so much. I haven't googled this, but I wonder if anyone has considered this possibility. I have a feeling though, just like everything else on the interwebz, it will just be another weird porn fetish.

    And you can be CEO to test Dalmia's assertions here.

  • ||

    it is being investigated

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D.....technology

    http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/.....tal-scents

    I would happily be CEO except I'm a feckless bludger

  • ||

    How 'bout this: Nook style menus for restaurants? It would be trendy, practical, and be perfect for the iWhatever kids for the near future. It's a niche market with all sorts of expansion possibilities!

    The downside I see is regulatory constraints for compliance with local health dept. codes. I guess sanitary hand wipeys available at the table, like condiments, would suffice.

  • db||

    My cousin's already doing this with her restaurant, although I think you have to use your own tablet.

  • ||

    Well, fudge. It seemed like a good idea at the time; using your own tablet would negate the contagion and hygienic concerns.

  • ||

    "Over-deliver," he lectured. "Performance is it." Forget about "life balance." A couple of women walked out-and others have since condemned him as "spectacularly stupid."

    It's healthy to have a relatively balanced life as far as individuals go, YMMV.

    I don't see how this is bad advice for anyone wanting to rise to the level Welch has, however. Overall, I liked the article and it made fair points, but I got the feeling that they didn't like the messenger moreso than the message. If this was Gloria Steinem, Meg Whitman, or even Christine Legarde giving this advice, it may have gone over better. My 0.02.

  • db||

    It does take a serious amount of ass-busting to get to the higher levels. It's demonstrating commitment to the company and the ability to work hard long hours that are very imporrant for rising up in a corporate structure. Politics is important too, and technical ability slightly less.

    The fact is, and rightly so, that a competent Board of Directors won't hire a CEO or other top officers if they don't demonstrate the ability to commit a significant part of their lives to running the company. That is not a 9-5 job.

  • NotSure||

    Call me a backwards neanderthal if you are a feminist, but for most CEO positions high testosterone levels is what gets one there, yes I know there are a ton of management books stating otherwise and many notable exceptions, but overall that is how most CEO positions are filled.

    Just like working in fashion design attracts a certain character, likewise a CEO position will be filled by a certain character, which most of the times is a man.

  • Wilt Chamberlain||

    As for Welch, if he weren't so impressed with himself, he'd realize that women have negotiated a far better deal for themselves than men in the modern world.

    Meh,I still think being a CEO, or at least owning a small business is still a great goal in life, regardless of gender. I think feminists on the left only have themselves to blame. Just like the history of capitalist blacks has been ignored, so has the history of capitalist women. You always hear about women wanting to be president; wanting to be a CEO isn't discussed as often. You can't constantly demonize business as being a tool of the patriarchy, then complain when women simply don't want to be executives.

  • Baal||

    Crony capitalism (see: Jack Welch) makes it harder to achieve balance. One of the positives of creative destruction in the business world for individuals is that there are more chances, over time, to find a good niche. At least for while.

  • Baal||

    To be fair, I was thinking of Immelt when I made this comment.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Should men, liberated from social expectations, decide that they too prefer to stay at home rather than remain stuck in soul-crushing jobs, women will have to pick up the slack or pare back their lifestyles.

    Or they can suck Big Daddy Government's dick, like that ho Julia, and hope he gives her a token of his pimp's love.

  • Nadya Suleman||

    “Over-deliver”

    Done. Can I be a CEO now?

  • SugarFree||

    "And no girl CEO can take a dump like a man! Watch me! ENGH! I SAID WATCH!"

  • Monty Crisco||

    Wasn't Jack Welch the guy who played the judge in that awful movie "Nothing But Trouble"? And he didn't even need makeup for the part!

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Nah,

    He played Robert the Bruce's dad in Braveheart.

  • Cyto||

    I can't think of a single woman (myself included) who has worked in a male-dominated environment and not felt that she must work extra-hard to prove herself before she is taken seriously, something men rarely encounter.

    I call bullshit. I'm a man, and I sure as heck had to bust my ass to be taken seriously. My first job was in a medical testing lab. As the new guy everyone assumed I was an idiot. So my first review began with "let's take a look at how bad you are doing..." My supervisor was surprised to learn that I was doing three times the work of the next most productive worker, and had the top quality rating of the entire floor. Oops. So much for perception. But maybe that was sexism, since I was a man in a female dominated job.
    After that I took to always being the first to arrive and the last to leave. Within a few years I was the top tech executive for a financial services firm. But I still had to fight for respect every day. Still do.

    I suppose big, good-looking, athletic guys with good sales skills might be able to skate by without actually busting their butts - but the same could be said for similarly endowed women. These tired old tropes about how non-minorities somehow don't have to suffer for success are just stupid. There's a reason most CEOs of large companies are type-a workaholics with crappy family lives. That's what it takes to beat out all of the other ambitious people who want to be king of the hill.

  • pantherlax||

    Totally agree Cyto. That's the stupidest line put forth in a reason article in a long long time. Instead of pointing out some 'institutionalized' sexism in the work place which she was trying for, it made me realize that men expect to have to prove themselves where as women are gobsmacked by it.

  • ||

    The galactic dunderheadedness contained in that statement strains the most naive credulity. It terrorizes the mind to think upon the madness that must have possessed the author who constructed it.

  • wareagle||

    but the line is part of feminist dogma with the belief that if it is repeated often enough, it will become fact. Most co-workers just want to know that they are not going to have to carry you; your chromosonal makeup is far less important.

  • Robert S||

    Women who want to be respected for their contributions at work are hindered less by sexism than the approximately 50 percent of women who will never even attempt to achieve anything in their lives outside of being wet holes.

  • db||

  • db||

    Sometimes male CEOs do choose family over career.

  • Rich||

    Cynical Rich notes that "to spend time with family" is often a convenient excuse for leaving under less-than-favorable circumstances. (If family were *that* important, why did you miss Billy's little league games and Susie's school plays?)

  • Drake||

    Yep - Impossible for an outsider to tell if it's his choice or the Board didn't renew his contract.

    Either way, he will be spending more time with his family AFTER making it to CEO and getting his golden parachute. That isn't how he got there.

  • db||

    With some specific knowledge of this case I can say the cynical take is incorrect here.

  • hotsy totsy||

    Didn't Robert Reich do this?

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    In the histories of the pre-feminist Dark Ages, I couldn't help notice several examples of somewhat successful, though unmarried women making a go of various demanding professions - science, law, even cryptography. I imagine they were held down by sexism in the sense that a man would have done even better, but they rose far enough to impress. If they'd been married, of course, I doubt they'd have risen so far. They achieved work-life balance by making their work their life, and they happened to like their line of work. Not recommending this for everyone, of course, but the Patriarchy isn't as powerful as one might think.

  • hotsy totsy||

    Two time Nobel laureate Marie Curie, who was married with children, might disagree.

  • Mo' $parky||

    You know what else is dumb? The phrases "it's not fair" and "I shouldn't have to".

  • Old Bull Lee||

    About men making unorthodox choices and breaking free of traditional role expectations: already been tried, and hypocritical women ruined it.

    There was an article a while back, linked here IIRC, that stay-at-home dads become virtually dickless in the eyes of their wives and marriages suffer.

  • luohuluohu||

    I like this post very much,thank you for you to share it.

  • Russell||

    In real life Jack sounds smaller than his photographs.

  • Sean Mack||

    Every Human Resources manager I've known since entering the workforce back in the mid-1990s has said things like: "She's a woman, so that's clearly a plus." "I don't think we can pass on a minority candidate with that type of credential", and so on.

    To claim that being something other than a white male, in any phase of the job market, is anything other than a big advantage these days, is to lie.

    That won't hold true in every individual case of course, but on net balance, it does not help you to look like Jack Welch if your goal in life is to be the next Jack Welch.

  • Baal||

    anon-bot nails it again.

  • Baal||

    anon-bot nails it again.

  • Rasilio||

    Wssn't this exact same article posted here last week?

  • wareagle||

    so, men and women are different. Hmmm. In other news, water is wet and the sun rose in the east this morning.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    So, I was a long time employee at one of those 3% Fortune 500 companies headed up by a woman. She was tenacious for sure but very nice to be around. However, if you think it only goes one way you are naive. She hired many of her female friends in top executive positions and some were less than qualified. As for the bottom rungs, we were treated just as poorly as the girls so it didn't matter to me but it did to some of my friends who were execs. We even called the company by its true name, "The Woman's Telecom". (five internets for the first person to nail the company)

    I will say this, I would not want to face off against her in a Manhattan board room. She is a very effective CEO.

    Th-th-th-that's all folks!

  • ||

    Time Warner?

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Companies have been trying to boost the ranks of female executives by re-examining their promotion policies; offering greater workplace flexibility; and implementing mentoring programs (which Welch rightly ridicules as institutionalized victimhood).


    So, in short, companies are lowering their standards to satisfy pressure groups. I mean let's be rieal here. Overdelivering results is a good thing. As a shareholder, its something I really really want the executives in any company I own stock in to do. Frankly, I don't give a damn if its overdelivered by someone with an X Y chromosome or with two X chromosomes. I want my money. Now, all other things being equal, who do you think is going to be more likely to do that, someone who needs handholding or someone who doesn't? Someone who wants "flexibility" and "work-life balance" or someone obsessed with their work and seeing their organization succeed. Honestly, I'm going to put my money on the latter. Gender discrimination is only really wrong to the extent that it denies women with the latter qualities the opportunity to take the role for which they're best suited. Changing the role because lots of women would rather live in former way of life is insulting to every man and woman who really would contribute in an executive role.

  • ||

    That's right, the women are smarter.
    That's right, the women are smarter.
    That's right, the women are smarter.
    The women are smarter, that's right.

  • ChrisO||

    The reality is that most men make the same "work-life balance" choice, too. A small percentage are willing to chuck aside everything in life from the time they are 18 in order to reach the corner office suite someday, but most of us are perfectly willing to be salary drones who actually get to go home and see our kids, read a book, play a guitar, etc.

  • Pshyeh-right||

    You know what is absolutely not on the table and no one is allowed to say? Maybe women just aren't such great shakes in the business world? I've worked with/for several. None of them have really blown my mind. Not saying all guys are wonderful. Most of them are dumb-asses or have their own issues. Seems to be a pretty normal distribution of guys from dolt to "together" sharp contributors. Don't see that same distribution with women. In fact, I can only think of one from my entire career that was really sharp.

    Now, in B-school, I was very impressed with several. But, an environment you would expect sharp women to be in heavy concentration. However, out of school, almost all of them got married and put work aside, went to work for Daddy Inc., quit their first job that was too hard moved back home, took a quota job (absolutely without question because this candidate was the only black female that applied) various disappointing trajectories.

    I desperately root for more women in the b-world and tout Sheryl Sandberg, Meg Whitman etc

    So far, the closest substitute is a few who just don't get it, and think being a *unt, or trying to "be a guy" is how it's supposed to work. No genuine examples so far in my 20+ year career in several industries and several work environments. Women that hear this just go defensive-attack.

  • setbit||

    How to avoid being taken seriously by anyone worth persuading: use the term "wage slavery" non-ironically.

  • hotsy totsy||

    "Women would much rather run their own lives on their own terms than the rest of the world on someone else's"

    But then why are so few women who are libertarians?

  • lujlp||

    Feminists blame this on enduring sexism in the workplace.

    Feminists are stupid

    And there is no question that sexism is a real problem.

    And apparently so are you

    I can’t think of a single woman (myself included) who has worked in a male-dominated environment and not felt that she must work extra-hard to prove herself before she is taken seriously, something men rarely encounter.

    That becuase of government mandated hiring practices which force businesses to hire unqualified women to meet quotas. When it is a know fact that a good chuck of women got the job based soley on their sex and not their qualifications can you really be upset that people who dont know you dont know you?

    That might discourage some women.

    Only the stupid and lazy ones, ie feminists

  • lujlp||

    But for most, that’s not the main obstacle to climbing the corporate ladder to the topmost rung. . . It’s just that women don’t like it

    Maybe you arent so dumb after all, but wait even while admiting womens own choices are what keeps them from the top you are still advocating that they be given top positions anyway. I take it back, you are just as dumb as I originally thought

    It is unfortunate that men haven’t experienced something equivalent that would liberate them from traditional role expectations and allow them to make unorthodox life choices for a more fulfilled and self-actualized existence.

    Show us rich supermodels marrying and screwing homless bums or good looking trash men over short fact ugly millionaires. Thats the experience it will take

    Men remain psychologically wired for worldly success. But it’s unclear whether it’s their inner needs that are driving them or external social expectations.

    Inner needs, women wont touch your junk if you cant afford to wine and dine them

    If feminists were honest

    Sorry, I almost passed out from lack of oxegyn laughing so hard

    Is there anything sadder than someone so obviously trying to convice themselves of something they know to be false?

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