Suzy Welch had a successful career before she married former General Electric (NYSE: GE) CEO Jack Welch in 2004.Â She graduated from Harvard, worked as a reporter for the Associated Press and as an editor for the Harvard Business Review.Â She even published a fiction novel, but she reached a whole new level of success when she married Jack Welch, which opened additional doors for her.Â Currently, she writes a column for BusinessWeek with her husband and contributes to Oprah’s O Magazine.Â Â Â
On Tuesday, Suzy Welch will give the keynote address at the Massachusetts Conference for Women.Â Her life has provided her with a unique perspective on women in business, and recently, she shared some of her thoughts and opinions in an interview with Sacha Pfeiffer of the Boston Globe.
Following is an excerpt from Suzy Welch’s interview that focuses on women in business.
Question: Do you think women need different skills or tactics than men to succeed in business?
Suzy Welch: No, I don’t. Certain characteristics make you successful as a leader, and they’re gender-neutral. Leaders have to inspire people; they have to get into their skin and make them understand the importance of the work. They have to have a keen sense of marketplace dynamics and what’s coming around corners, and I don’t think that’s any different for women. Some women bring special qualities to the job because they’ve got certain skills we sometimes ascribe to women, like soft skills. But, God, I’ve known a lot of great men leaders who’ve got those soft skills and certain women leaders who don’t have them at all. I would say there’s probably more of a difference between young leaders and old leaders than there is between men and women leaders.
Question: Do women face any different business challenges than men?
Suzy Welch: They do. If you’re a single woman at age 40, you have similar challenges as a single man at age 40. There are Neanderthal companies where there’s a bias against women, but most companies now in the global marketplace really just care about winning. You have to put your best players on the field, and if that person is a woman then in most enlightened companies she’s played. But there is this biology issue. I have four children of my own, so I’m not speaking from anything but experience. When you are working and have a second, huge, important job of raising your children, you face different challenges because you have to make different choices about where your priorities are going to be and where you’re going to spend your time. And it can be extremely difficult and very, very challenging if you’re a woman who wants to do it all at the same time.
Question: Would you talk about how you balanced raising kids with working?
Suzy Welch: Having children is challenging for anybody whether or not you’re working in a workplace. There are simple logistical challenges. How do you get to all the things you feel you should be going to as a mom and also meet your commitments at work? As your children get older, these problems, thank God, fade away somewhat. But there were many days when I needed to be several places exactly at the same time, and the more children you have the more complicated that can become. There were days where I had a kid who was in a wrestling match at the same time that an important meeting was happening. So there’s this simple, constant juggling of meeting other people’s needs and constantly trying to predict the future about whose needs should be met. You have to make choices about how you’re going to allocate your time and your emotions. There is no solution or trick. There is only muddling. You muddle through it. You ask for help. I ask my kids for a lot of help. I got help from my mom and my sisters. I got help from my coworkers and my team. You make mistakes and you correct them and you learn and you’re right some percentage of the time. On a good day, you’re right 50 percent of the time. On a bad day, you’re not right at all. I’ve had my moments of feeling like it was too much and then other times when you say, ‘I can do this.’ Then, bit by bit, your kids get older. With my kids, I was always very clear in saying: I’m going to work, I’m a working mother, I have to work for many different reasons, I have to work because it makes me the person I want to be. So for my kids there was never any bargaining about whether or not I worked. That can really complicate it for a working mom where she engages in a debate with her kids about how much she’s going to work and whether she works, and I didn’t go there with my kids. There are so many ways to do it right. I do not have the patent on it, I’ll tell you that. I did it the only way I could and I was driven a lot by instinct and a lot by love — and you love your kids fiercely. You become a wildly efficient person.
What do you think of Suzy Welch’s perspective on women in business and work-life-balance?