Well, maybe when he's holding one of his man-to-man leadership talks. With the ladies, however, he's striking out.
That's what happened at a recent conference for female executives sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, where he and his wife Suzy spoke. The WSJ's John Bussey reports that some women were so infuriated by Welch's comments that they walked out.
Here are Welch's dos and don'ts for women:
1. Don't bother with affinity groups. Welch basically calls women's groups "victims units." Though GE is known for hosting a range of women's programs, Welch didn't seem impressed by them: "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 victims unit. I'm a star. I want to be compared with the best of your best.' "
2. Don't bother with mentoring too. In fact, he calls it "one of the worst ideas that ever came along. . . . You should see everyone as a mentor."
3. Do take on the hard jobs. Instead of joining women's groups or waiting for mentoring, Welch urges women to go for "tough assignments to prove yourself, get line experience, and embrace serious performance reviews and the coaching inherent in them."
4. Do insist on a thorough review. All the coaching is meaningless "without a rigorous appraisal system, without you knowing where you stand . . . and how you can improve," says Welch. He also says that the appraisal "is the best way to attack bias" because performance is documented.
5. Do work your butt off. "Overdeliver. . . . Performance is it!"
What really ticked the women off was Welch's suggestion that corporate America is a meritocracy where women can rise if they just work hard at it. Instead of criticizing the system or addressing underlying biases in the workplace, Welch puts the onus on women to succeed.
"This meritocracy fiction may be the biggest obstacle to women's advancement," consultant Lisa Levey told the WSJ. "He showed no recognition that the culture shapes the performance metrics, and the culture is that of white men," said investment manager Allison Quirk to the WSJ.
They're right, of course. Welch does speak from the perspective of a white alpha male. It's limited, but does that mean it's totally invalid?
Sadly, I think there's some truth to what he says. For those who aspire to be on the top of the food chain, Welch is probably right that you have to be singular in your focus, work like a maniac, and take no prisoners. Would women's programs be distractions? Quite possibly—one-time corporate star Sallie Krawcheck certainly feels that way. As for work/life balance, fuhgeddaboudit!
It's not for everyone, but that formula seems to have worked for some of the women I know who are at the top of their game in law firms and corporations. Some strike me as a bit ruthless; many are also quite dismissive about the "glass ceiling," and have little use for the sisterhood. They're not my buddies, but they are incredibly successful.
Of course, what Welch doesn't say—and maybe doesn't realize—is that even women who give it their all still might not land on top of the heap. After all, women only make up 3.6 (that's a 0.6 rise from last year) percent of the CEOs in the Fortune 500.
So is Welch, the corporate warrior, just telling like it is? Or is he the ruling class member who's missing the big picture? I guess it's both. Not very reassuring, is it?
Photo: Suzy and Jack Welch.
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