Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jack Welch: Legal Constructivist or Bully?

I am not a legal theorist (Olga?!), and not particularly enthusiastic about the comments this post might illicit, but I felt compelled to write. Last week Jack Welch remarked at a SHRM event that female professionals had the burden of making a choice: to focus on acquiring a leadership position within their company and field, or, to focus on having and raising children.

I didn’t pay much attention to the news item at the time of its release – then, it wasn't blawgable. In the interim period, the online community has been both critical and supportive of Welch (ie, ABA, Ms. JD, WSJ). The reason the news story originally sailed passed my attention is ironically the reason I write now, because I feel Welch merely remarked on the roadmap every female professional realizes exists.

I will not discuss whether this roadmap is “right,” or “fair,” or a choice a man is under the same obligation to make. But from a legal constructivist position, Welch’s comments make sense. Legal constructivism studies how law embodies norms. It makes sense, that a woman competing in any profession built by men, and for decades professionally populated by men, would have to compete by the rules those men created. And whether purposefully or subconsciously, those men would create rules that reinforced the manner in which they performed, the means by which their performance was judged, and by values their male community supported. So where a male professional had sacrificed his personal interests for the sake of his company’s interests (or alternatively, did not have to make the sacrifice because a partner supported him), it is logical that a promotion and company leadership structure would embody the same rationale, priority, and reward.

As a closing matter, Welch’s comments also make intuitive sense. If I join an athletic team, and leave work early each evening to practice, travel periodically for games, and have my mental focus divided among competing concerns, no one – not even myself – would expect a professional leadership position at work. And this is not to denigrate raising children to the level of playing baseball, but the issues of distraction and divided focus from company concerns remain the same. We grew up as kids knowing we couldn’t have it all, right? That our choices and actions had consequences? (And this is a personal and truthful reflection): why, then, does it come as such a shock when Jack Welch says it out loud?

(Photo courtesy of Re:Focus).

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