At a recent conference for women executives sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, Jack and Suzy Welch offered career advice, in the form of “do’s and don’ts for women.” WSJs John Bussey reported that some women were so infuriated by Welch’s comments that they walked out. What seemed to really be most upsetting was his comment
that corporate America is a “meritocracy” where women can rise if they just work hard enough – with no acknowledgement of subtle gender biases/barriers that can get in the way no matter how hard one works. His list of 5 do’s and don’ts were:
1) Don’t bother with affinity groups – which he called “victim’s units” and claimed that when he was CEO, the “best women” would tell him that they didn’t want to be in a “special group for women.”
2) Don’t bother with mentoring – saying it is 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 focusing on women’s groups and mentoring, go get the tough assignments and prove yourself!
4) Do insist on a thorough review – coaching is meaningless without a “rigorous appraisal system that lets you know where you stand and how to improve.” He also said that the appraisal “is the best way to attack bias because performance is documented.”
5) Do work your butt off – “over-deliver, and performance is it.”
1) For most organizations, the term “affinity groups” is a thing of the past. Most have adopted the term, “Employee Resource Groups” and are increasingly demonstrating their ability to add value to the bottom line of their organizations. It is true that during Jack Welch’s reign as CEO of GE, the early “affinity groups” were often focused on being a “support group” for those from similar diverse backgrounds, and a means for those with more seniority and experience to “mentor” (Yes, I did use that word!) those who were younger and less experienced/savvy. However, they have evolved quite a bit in the last decade as progressive organizations realized that they were often an “untapped resource” that really could add value if leveraged and supported in the right ways.
2) While it’s true that no one should limit themselves to just one mentor (as in “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”) it must also be acknowledged that the best mentoring tends to occur when the “mentor” sees something in the “mentee” that reminds them of themselves and makes a personal commitment to invest their very precious time in his/her development. In other words, mentors pick mentees….when it works, more often than not. And, as the saying goes, “If everyone is responsible, no one is responsible….it may also be true that if everyone is a mentor, perhaps no one is truly a mentor.”
3) I believe there have been a number of studies that have shown that women tend to be “side-lined” in staff support organizations. While women can throw their hats in the ring for the meaningful line jobs (otherwise known as the “hard jobs” according to Mr. Welch), they still need to be selected for those jobs, and all to often, they aren’t.
4) There is always some amount of subjectivity involved in every performance evaluation, and I venture to say that this is applicable to everyone being evaluated. However, whenever there is subjectivity, it is also the most fertile ground for subtle biases to operate. If others in the organization aren’t being held accountable for managing their biases, then any woman’s evaluation, to some degree, will be a reflection of how well she managed the subtle barriers in the environment in order to do her job. And, if a woman doesn’t sense that her manager appreciates the different reality that she faces every day in the organization because of her gender, she is unlikely to talk to her manager about these barriers — that she perceives, rightly or wrongly — are due to her gender. The risk of being “labeled” in negative ways for surfacing this conversation are far too risky.
5) I am a night owl. It’s not unusual for me to be sending an email to a client between 1:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. What has continued to amaze me over the last 10 years and how often I get an immediate email back from women – who are at home and still working, even though they need to be at their office early in the morning. My point: I believe that most women understand that they need to work their butts off, and are doing just that. Most of the successful women/people of color that I interact with have truly internalized the belief that they have to work twice as hard….it simply is their reality in organizations that don’t understand the different reality that they face every day based on their differences. Let me be clear: this is not intended to say that others (i.e., white males) don’t work incredibly hard. Those who ascend the corporate ladder have to work hard. There is, however, a “plus” factor for those who don’t look like them that they often can’t appreciate because it’s not “their reality.”
Jack Welch was clearly an incredible leader in so many ways – he would have been even better if he had asked one simple question……”What is it that I may not understand that inhibits you from contributing your maximum potential to this organization?”
We invite our readers to comment on any or all of the above!
Patricia C. Pope