May 15 2012
I’ve written before about the alarmism surrounding the shortage of female CEOs in corporate America.
While I applaud women like Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Leslie Bradshaw of Forbes.com who focus on what women can do for themselves to improve their careers, I’m generally of the mind that men and women are different, have different strengths and preferences, and may choose different career paths. While women are underrepresented in the C-Suite, they’re overrepresented in the academy – in fact more women than men earned Ph.D.s in 2010.
So I was somewhat unfazed when General Electric CEO Jack Welch – already known for his (in)famous “no such thing as work-life balance” comment – recently told women that if they want to succeed in corporate American they have to “over-deliver…Performance is it.”
I have to admit, climbing the corporate ladder does not sound appealing. As Shikha Dalmia over at Reason points out, “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.”
But Dalmia also stresses something else – that it’s ridiculous that we assume men should want to climb the corporate ladder:
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.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s hard to know if it’s biological, cultural, or a little of both, but the fact is, as I’ve written before, men make decisions all the time. Some men will choose to be on a partner track at a big law firm, where they are expected to work demanding hours and have little time to spend with their families, while other men with the same degrees, will serve as counsel for a government agency or a smaller firm, where they make less money, but also spend less time at their desk. We just don't write government reports about it.
In the end, Dalmia gets it just right:
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.
No doubt, work-life choices are difficult for both men and women.