Monday, July 20, 2009

Jack Welch: See Joan Williams on Work-Life "Choices"

Jack Welch created a firestorm of controversy with his remarks at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in June on work-life balance. According to reports on the conference, Welch told attendees “there’s no such thing as work-life balance...there are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences” (WSJ, 7/09).

At, Paula Gregorowicz noted that this isn’t the first time Welch has talked tough on work choices. Gregorowicz reported that in The Welch Way, Jack and Suzy (Welch) suggested that the feeling of being out of balance comes from not facing "what 'achieving work-life balance' really comes down to, which is making choices and living with their consequences.” Jack and Suzy went on in the book to say that they “would even vote to retire the term work-life balance’ and replace it with ‘work-life choices’.”

Unfortunately, the "women make choices" argument is just one more addition to the long line of "it's your own fault" excuses for why women aren't treated fairly in the workplace. Joan Williams, Distinguished Professor of Law and director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, has written extensively on the subject of women and work-life "choices." Williams argues that we have "excuse[d] gender discrimination under the rhetoric of 'choice'," and that the choices we force women to make frequently “occur within the context of discrimination." Williams makes her point most succinctly with one powerful punch: "choice and discrimination are not mutually exclusive," and notes that "choice is only a defense against discrimination if women's marginalization is freely chosen in the same sense that some people choose Mars Bars over Baby Ruths."

Bottom line? As long as women have to make choices men don't have to make, it's still discrimination.

Is there hope for the future? PhillyGrrl had this to say about Welch's comments:

  • "Maybe it’s the attitude of old-fashioned executives such as Mr. Welch that prevents this 'work-life balance'...thankfully, dude is retired."

Read more from Joan Williams:

Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It, 1999.

“Opt Out” or Pushed Out?: How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Women in the Labor Force Updates

June employment figures released the first week of July 2009. Here's a couple of key stats from those new numbers.
  • The overall unemployment rate increased just slightly: from 9.4% in May to 9.5% in June. The employment rate for adult men now stands at 10% and at 7.6% for adult women. (
  • Women hold a record 49.8% of payroll jobs but job gains have stalled in sectors that employ them. (
  • Unemployment among single female heads of households increased nearly 1% in 6/09, from 11% to 11.7%. This rate is nearly 50% higher than 6/08, when it was 7.9%. (
(See our blog post on women in the labor force - it covers some things to keep in mind when you come across labor force stats that herald the coming of the female-majority labor force.)
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