Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on Jack Welch vs. Feminists on Female CEOs: Dumb and Dumber


General Electric CEO Jack Welch ignited a firestorm last week 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." But Reason Foundation Senior Analyst notes in her morning column at The Daily:

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.

Read the whole thing here.

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  1. Welch poses the question, indirectly, of why investors in a company should take a loss for the privilege of having a CEO who won’t work very hard.

    Naturally, if a “work/life balance” CEO gets results, then fine. But if a workaholic CEO gets better results, then that is who should get the job.

    Companies don’t exist to make their investors feel good. They exist to make their investors money. Investors apparently believe that workaholic CEOs make them more money. If they’re wrong, then they pay the price. But the idea that they should hire a CEO on any other basis is nuts.

    1. You’re just an evil misogynist. I can’t believe I am a part of the patriarchy.

    2. A question: if the investors value feeling good over money isn’t it then appropriate to do so? I would think in a free market business could be run in all sorts of ways including sacrificing profits for other benefits.

      1. It’s possible, but I don’t think it happens very often.

      2. There are plenty of companies to waste money on if that’s an investor’s goal.

    3. There is one HUGE flaw with this concept.

      It assumes that the specific individual that holds the CEO’s office has a large impact on corporate profits AND that shareholders as represented by the board of directors have any meaningful way of measuring this impact.

      Fact is the individual working style or personality of the CEO (or any other high executive) has relatively little bearing on profits, especially in the short term, and measuring that impact is effectively impossible.

      This leaves corporate boards using ineffective and often self contradictory oracles (information sources) as clues for who or what might make a successful CEO and in the end what you get is a run for safety and lack of innovation. Basically they hire CEO’s who look pretty much like all the other CEO’s because they know they are at least protected from being critized for making a horrible choice.

      There used to be a saying in the business world “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”. It meant that IBM’s reputation was so good that if you went with their offering no one could criticize it because it could always be justified, even if the project in the end failed. Same thing with hiring a CEO, no one will ever be kicked off a board for hiring someone who looks and acts just like Jack Welch and so you end up with a lot of CEO’s who are just like that and almost no creativity in the C-level suite.

      1. The concept doesn’t rest on the CEO making a huge difference.

        And who your CEO is does make a difference. Is it overrated? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

        1. I didn’t say the CEO had no impact on the bottom line, I said it had “relatively little impact”, “especially in the short term” and that “measuring said impact was impossible”.

          You states that companies hire CEO’s to get results and not make the stockholders “feel good” the problem is if the best results you can expect are relatively small and you have no objective way of measuring them then there is no logical basis for choosing one CEO over another except making the shareholders “feel good”.

          Further with no reliable way of tracking performance companies may in fact be “paying the price” for poor choices and yet never know that they are doing so therefore there is no economic feedback mechanism to correct those bad choices.

          Fact is a single good engineer or salesman is worth more to a companies bottom line than a great CEO and the few exceptions (Jobs, Gates, Welch, etc.) where the CEO’s were great is because they were also great in some other role that helped the bottom line.

  2. 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.

    This is all well and good, but few companies are looking for part-time CEOs. Either you are all in or all out. Stockholders want a return on investment, not finance your journey to self-discovery.

    1. That’s fine. They’re adults, they can make that choice.

      Just don’t come whining to me that you can’t have it both ways.

      1. I suspect that no woman who is actually capable of becoming a CEO is complaining when she chooses not to.

        The women who are whining are the ones who are incapable of having it either way.

        1. This. Believe you me, there are plenty of workaholic women with crushing ambition who have what it takes to make it to the top and give the middle-finger to work/life balance.

          The people whining (and this goes for men, too) are the ones who want the brass ring, but want to have the brass ring between 9am and 5pm.

          There are people in my department right now who make more than I do, but they also work much harder than I do. I have no complaint about this. I recognize it for what it is.

          I’m the guy on career day who says, “I just kind of want to float along…”

  3. “And there is no question that sexism is a real problem.”

    Really? Especially in male dominated fields the legal discrimination is against men. Men feel (God I hate that word) that women are required to work less hard because the diversity programs that exist in many companies, something women rarely encounter.

    “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”

    How does this jive with the report posted here awhile back that not a single person sampled preferred a female boss to a male boss. My guess is this HBR survey was done in a typical liberal junk science way.

  4. Really need to read the entire article. Even though Shikha upset me with her take on sexism in the workplace in the first few paragraphs, she holds herself neutral after that in order to challenge Welch and femanists and considers both points of view.

  5. Good article overall. It does not address every relevant aspect of the debate, but it makes several good, cogent points.

  6. Wow, OK man so who comes up with all that stuff? Wow.

  7. Your comment contains a word that is too long (50 characters).

  8. ” … reflexively busting their derrieres for the pleasure of parking them in the C-Suite.”

    There’s no reason to read articles which have sentences like that one.

  9. Aha! “derrieres” with the Frenchy character rather than a Real American Letter, is “too long”. Fix it.

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