Former GE chairman and CEO Jack Welch stole the spotlight at the Wall Street Journal's Women in the Economy Conference this week in Palm Beach, Fla., when he told an audience of women executives that to advance in their careers, "performance is it," and suggested that individual mentoring and diversity programs do not help women in their career paths.
Referring to a women's forum inside GE as a "victims unit," Welch told the audience, "Stop lying about it. It's true. Great women get upset about getting into the victim's unit," the WJS reported.
According to the WSJ report, the message received by some attendees was that Welch dismisses organized efforts by women to illuminate long-held biases against women as senior management material and break the male lock-hold on C-suite roles. Great performance results in recognition and advancement, and if women haven't made it to the C-suite, it's because they haven't "over-delivered."
Welch's refusal to accept the significance of "subtle barriers to women's advancement," as former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers framed it for the WSJ, surely reverberated through the upper (and middle) echelons of GE's current management. Welch may no longer be CEO, but his 20-plus years in that role and his continued high profile in the media means that any provocative statement he makes will reflect on his former employer.
Current GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt now has an opportunity to offer his own contrasting statement, and perhaps show an in-depth understanding of the historical role of women in the workplace. Rising talent within his ranks will appreciate it—and fresh talent will see GE as an employer of choice.
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