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Wednesday, July 15, 2009



As a 44 year old professional banker, I'm afraid I fall firmly in Welch's camp feeling that he is telling the truth, just one most of us don't want to hear or believe.

I also think there's a whole social conditioning of women (in addition to the biological time clock) that tells us to "help people/do some good" etc that side-tracks us from grabbing the brass ring.

My sister, who is 6 years younger and I discuss this fairly often. I contend that the funnel narrows a great deal at the top and for many women, stepping out/sideways/off is a way to always say "I could have been a contender" but never actually have to be in the often ugly free for all to see if you make it to the top...I see too many women who say " I worked at a top law firm/company/in medicine but stopped after a year or two to really take care of my family." It lets you stay in "coulda been" without ever knowing if that's how it would have turned out.

My sister contends that women see the top, think it isnt "all that much" and opt out.

I mentor MBA's at a top 10 business school and more than a few of the 25-30 year olds are quite sure they'll be equals, maintaining they are treated that way in class. Then I gently point out to them they they did all the "work" in the group project and let the guys present when the the hiring folks (like myself) are present at the case competition.

I used to think it was just that "our" generation was sort of caught between the 50's housewife and the early women's lib set and that it would be just us that would be challenged. Now I'm not so sure. And they're simply arent enough of us staying in the ugly fight to get to the top to be able to change the outcome for future generations.

It's a tough choice for everyone, if we all had a crystal ball and knew our families would come out alright, marriages intact etc we might make one set of choices...but what about when we guess wrong?

Stacy, as always I love your articles!

Lisa Newman

Stacy, I really liked your article. As you know, Jeff worked at GE for 12 years and during that time, we attended many GE social events. One of the interesting things that occurred during those years was the highly publicized divorce of Gary Wendt, CEO of GE Capital at the time. His wife, Lorna, successfully sued for a big settlement based on the concept that without her help as his wife, Gary would have never had as much business success and financial reward. She ultimately set up her own foundation, Equality in Marriage, and works as an advocate for women's equality in marriage and divorce. I was thinking about all this as I read your article and also about the fact that Jack Welch (who has had his own very public marital difficulties) created an "all or nothing" culture at GE that rewards great performance. But his definition of "success" is narrow and focuses on business success. That works for him and for people like him, both men and women. But I don't think it's wrong for other people, both men and women, to choose a different definition for success. That may be taking time off to be with your children, or working in a different industry from the high pressured ones, or working flex time. We don't all have to agree on the definition of "success." It's a very subjective word. Jack Welch's definition of success applies to a very small percentage of population who are very driven, very stressed out, and who spend very little time with their families. That's not the right choice for everyone.


Thanks, Lisa and Ellen for your comments. Lisa, your point about how the "all or nothing" culture Jack Welch created at GE worked well for some small percentage of men and women, but not for many others, resonates with me. I do think that "success" is very subjective, and for me a "successful" life is one is one that builds in balance and allows for fulfillment in many different ways. But I agree with Ellen that, in our society, success is usually defined as having an important job, making bundles money, wielding a lot of power, etc. and that there is something wrong with the fact that a lot of highly intelligent and talented women never try for these things because of societal pressures and expectations. There does seem to be a return to a new traditionalism that puts many women in supporting or even inferior roles. Still, Ellen, I agree with your sister that many women see what's at the top - and look at the huge sacrifices people make to get there - and say no thanks. That's certainly how I feel. Nonetheless, I am very excited when someone like Sonia Sotomayor does go for the top!

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