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Women Push Back

By Bob Calandra

The female executives at a recent Wall Street Journal conference must have wondered if they had fallen into a time warp. Jack Welch, the former guru of General Electric who still writes and speaks about business, told the gathering that corporate career tracks were determined solely by “results and performance.”

Welch said that diversity programs, mentorships and affinity groups were not the avenues women should be traveling to get ahead. Over-delivering and performance, he said, are the keys to a woman’s business success.

“During his remarks, he … mentioned a women’s forum inside GE that he says attracted 500 participants,” according to the report in the WSJ.

“The best of the women would come to me and say, ‘I don’t want to be in a special group. I’m not in the victim’s unit. I’m a star. I want to be compared with the best of your best.’

“And then he addressed the audience: ‘Stop lying about it. It’s true. Great women get upset about getting into the victim’s unit.’ ”

The executives attending the Journal’s Women in the Economy conference were not thrilled with Welch’s statements. Nor were many of the female business leaders who have since read Welch’s assessment.

“Women have been over-delivering for decades and watching men who do less consistently be given more opportunities for advancement,” says Susan Bender Phelps, CEO of Odyssey Mentoring and Leadership in Beaverton, Ore. “Men in leadership tend to choose men to promote and develop as leaders.”

If performance and results are the important markers that upper-level executives look for, says Julie Claire Shapiro, then there should be a lot more women at the C-suite level.

“Over-performance and over-delivery are generally good for careers regardless of gender,” says Shapiro, a Philadelphia-based attorney with HireanEsquire.com and executive of a software company she co-founded.

“To imply that the lack of these things is the obstacle for a woman’s career track is much like Welch’s quarterly earnings-per-share-oriented management style: short-sighted and bad for the long-term health of companies and the economy,” she says.

Shapiro cites a study on the State of Women-Owned Business Report by AMEX OPEN that shows companies with the highest representation of female board members averaged higher financial performance than those with the lowest.

The study further found that women-owned businesses in seven of 13 of the most-populous industries exceed overall sector growth.

“Where women hit the glass ceiling is in companies where the old-boys’ network prevails and controls,” she says.

That network still prevails in traditional companies, some women say. Men coming up through the ranks have more access to men at the senior level, says Rosina Racioppi, chief executive officer of Women Unlimited in New York.

“Women do get results and work hard,” Racioppi says. “But they don’t always get the opportunity to get those projects that are critical. You need a critical mentor to help you understand what adds value to the business.”

Jennifer Crittenden, a former chief financial officer and San Diego-based author of The Discreet Guide for Executive Women, agrees. Women, she says, must be smarter in choosing the projects they accept.

“I have observed on several occasions women who develop time-consuming and complex projects often fail because they haven’t laid the political groundwork,” she says. “I would respectfully suggest that Jack is naive. He has not had to navigate the corporate thicket that faces an ambitious female executive.”

Still, not every female executive found fault with Welch’s take on professional advancement. Michele Colucci, Woodside, Calif.-based founder and CEO of the internet based MyLawsuit.com, is passionate about female entrepreneurship.

And over the years she has found that women will work for a cause, not just for the money. Men, however, are more mindful about taking delivery dates seriously and are intrinsically results-based.

“All said, Jack Welch is correct,” she says. “Programs promoting diversity, mentorships and affinity groups are intelligent ways to obtain a job or find out about an opportunity. But what keeps one in that job and what propels them ahead in that career is absolutely a results-driven quantification. When work is intense, my minimum threshhold is doing what you commit to do, on time, without excuses.”

May 17, 2012

Copyright 2012© LRP Publications

Women Push Back

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