Can Women Balance Kids/Work?

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My mother’s mother was a schoolteacher. Every morning, she woke up at 4AM, cooked breakfast for her six kids, packed them off to school and then taught school herself. My mother was also a schoolteacher. Then she got married and stayed home. She was the best stay-at-home mother a kid could have. June Cleaver? Martha Stewart? Pfft, amateurs. Growing up, I sincerely thought my mother was superwoman. She would sew all of the dresses my sister and I wore. She made tortillas from scratch for elaborate Sunday dinners. Carpentry? Check. Husbandry? Check. She did it all.

Then, when I was 13, she went back to work. It took her a couple of years and a couple of promotions, but eventually, she was asked to fill the highest supervisory position at her company. She turned it down, instead choosing a less-stressful position in which she was responsible for fewer employees. I know one of the reasons she didn’t want to take it was because she wanted to make sure she spent time with her kids. She likes to come home every day and make us dinner.

I thought about her this week when I read this Wall Street Journal article in which Jack Welch, former chief executive of General Electric said the following at a conferences of HR managers:

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance,” Mr. Welch told the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in New Orleans on June 28.”There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

And:

“Mr. Welch said those who take time off for family could be passed over for promotions if “you’re not there in the clutch.”

“The women who have reached the top of Archer Daniels, of DuPont, I know these women. They’ve had pretty straight careers,” he said in an interview with journalist Claire Shipman, before thousands of HR specialists.

“We’d love to have more women moving up faster,” Mr. Welch said. “But they’ve got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one.”

Taking time off for family “can offer a nice life,” Mr. Welch said, “but the chances of going to the top on that path” are smaller. “That doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice career,” he added.”

Not sure how to react to this. It just sounds so condescending. I plan to have a professional career. I’m not going to school for the next three years to not use my degree. I plan to have kids. Kids are great. So, what? I can’t have it all. Maybe it’s the attitude of old-fashioned executives such as Mr. Welch that prevents this “work-life balance.” I wonder how supportive Mr. Welch was of his own wives’ career choices? Would he have even been successful without his first wife? His second wife was a lawyer. His third went to Harvard Business School.

Thankfully, dude is retired. Good riddance. Don’t tell me how to live my life. Not cool.

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8 responses to “Can Women Balance Kids/Work?

  1. It’s always interesting how often this issue is couched as falling solely on women.

    Men too have choices about how they organize their lives as it relates to career ambitions and raising a family. Fulfilling a role as husband and/or father requires more than cashing a paycheck and putting food on the table and a roof overhead.

    Too often these ‘experts’ are busy telling women about the ‘real world’ yet little scrutiny is given to their own lives away from the board room.

  2. I think RSR has a piece of the truth. It’s likely that few persons will make it to the highest levels of business unless they make that their overriding goal. Their are exceptions.

    I know one woman who made it to VP of a major division of an international corporation while somehow maintaining a sense of balance and perspective, raising a family, and nurturing a long and happy marriage.

    But most high executives I’ve known, both men and women, tend to sacrifice balance to ambition.

    The implicit sexism is in the assumption that the family responsibilities will fall primarily on the mother–and that’s not exclusively a male view.

    When my youngest was little, the boss (a woman, and the best boss I ever had) called me into her cubicle to “counsel” me about taking time off to be with my son when he was home sick from schoool. She asked me what was going on.

    I said to her, “Well, [wife] and I talked about it and she wanted to know why she should always be the once to miss work when [son] was sick.”

    Boss looked at me for a moment, then said, “You’re right. Get out of here.”

  3. If only there were more men like you two!

  4. Retired? Definitely sounds like someone who lived in the way past. My mom runs a school. She teaches in the evenings, and my dad works in the mornings. There’s always been a parent at home, we’ve always had home-cooked dinners… My mom helps my dad, my dad helps my mom. It’s 2009! And that’s just one example. I can think of so many others.
    Obviously if you go to work you might be “missing” someone at home at that same time- but that’s what balance is all about isn’t it?

    We can do whatever we set our mind to. And I don’t see why a husband can’t chip in either.

  5. Pingback: Queercents » Blog Archive » There is No Work-Life Balance, Only Work-Life Choices

  6. Pingback: Workplace Flexibility News for the week of July 12, 2009 | Connecting Career and Life

  7. Great Post – Keep it up. Work- Home life balance has always intrigued me…
    I am also looking for practical tips one may follow to get things a little bit easier and streamlined. If any one knows of a good website with such information, please let me know.

  8. Thanks, Haritha. When I have kids, I’ll be sure to write it down :)

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