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Julie Menin

Julie Menin

Posted: July 21, 2009 11:14 PM

Jack Welch Sounds False Note on Women in Corporate America


Women across the country should sound a collective sigh of dismay at the antiquated and frankly harmful comments recently made by former GE CEO Jack Welch.

Speaking at a human resources conference, of all places, where one expects to hear more gender friendly rubric, Welch proclaimed, "There's no such thing as a work-life balance," going on to explain that a woman's choice to have a family makes career advancement all but impossible.

What kind of message does this send to young girls today? The message is essentially: Don't even try because you can't have it all -- choose one or the other.

I regularly interview women for my show Give and Take who do have it all -- they are mothers with high powered careers. These women are resolute, dedicated and supreme multi-taskers. Take the case of Liz Lange, who started a maternity fashion empire, all while raising two young kids and battling the ravages of cervical cancer, which included grueling rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Campbell Brown, who hosts a national cable news show while raising two young boys, is another great example. Both of these women demonstrate that, while it may not be easy, it is possible to flourish as a working mother.

While Welch focuses on the boardroom as a major obstacle to women who choose to raise kids while climbing the corporate ladder, there is a plethora of evidence that proves him wrong. In my conversation with Alexandra Lebenthal, who is herself a prime representation of an accomplished CEO and mother, she pointed out that while some women have left Wall Street, many have done so to start their own companies, as evidenced by the fact that women employ more people than all of the Fortune 500 companies put together. There are also a number of women who have briefly exited the career highway to start families only to make successful returns to the corporate world later on.

Despite the countless women who have proven it is possible to balance career and family, there are still significant roadblocks in corporate America. According to a 2008 census of Fortune 500 companies performed by Catalyst.org, a leading non-profit organization that works to build more inclusive workplaces for women globally, the advancement of women in corporate leadership continues to stagnate, with only 15.2 percent holding board of director positions, as compared with 14.8 percent in 2007. There has also been an increase to 66 from the 59 companies in 2007 with no women at all on their boards.

We still have a long way to go in providing more opportunities for women in corporate America, but we will never get there if the attitudes that are passed down reflect the belief that a woman "can't" have it all.

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