Can you both tend the home fires and stoke a high-powered career?

Is it possible to juggle the third-grade play with the 11th-hour executive-board meeting?

If you take a few years off to raise Suzy and Jose, can you still reach the office mountaintop?

These are questions that have been on women's minds for decades, but over the years the so-called work-life balance -- a phrase I find sadly comical -- has become the accepted formula for women who want to "have it all."

Now comments by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch have reignited the old debate, and pundits everywhere are calling the business guru a dinosaur.

"There's no such thing as work-life balance," Welch told the Society for Human Resource Management's annual conference last month. "There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences."

He added that those who take time off for family might be passed over when it's time to move up because "you're not there in the clutch." He pointed out that women who had reached the top "had pretty straight careers." In other words, they weren't taking years off to make play dates.

Welch wasn't necessarily singling out female executives, but he had been asked about women, and he answered in that context. There have been, of course, generations of men who sacrificed family time for career building, but they had wives who pinch-hit.

These days, which partner schedules the plumber or attends the parent-teacher conference may have less to do with gender than with job flexibility.

But a truism remains: The more time devoted to your job, the less time you have for the spouse and kids.

This isn't a gender issue; it's a mathematical equation. No matter how you dice and slice the day, it has only so many hours.

Still, Welch's remarks sparked fireworks. One writer called his comments "a bummer for the entire human race." Another, from Australia, brayed that Welch sounded "more like a 19th century clergyman than a man who once ran the biggest multinational in the world."

Methinks others protest too much.

Welch made a valid point, one that many working mothers know all too well. No one -- male or female -- reaches the top without sacrificing family time. Refusing to acknowledge that does everyone involved a disservice.

Remember the mommy track? The squabble between stay-at-home and stay-at-work mothers? The struggle, the juggle, the "balance" has been repackaged a dozen different ways since a boss told me, almost three decades ago, that the newspaper didn't have a maternity policy because no woman had returned to the newsroom after giving birth.

There are a lot of women these days who have managed to raise children and reach the corner office by sharing the load with their partner, their extended family -- or hired help. For the rest of us, the path may not be a climb to the top so much as a flat, winding road with pit stops and tune-ups along the way.








Work-Life 'Balance' Laid Bare | Jobs & Careers
Jobs & Careers Advice - Joyce Lain Kennedy - Careers Now