How Carly Fiorina lost her gender groove

Click here for Carly Fiorina's own comments about being publicly fired from her position as CEO of Hewlett Packard

Maureen Dowd, New York Times
October 15, 2006

CARLY Fiorina prided herself on being adept at succeeding in a man's world without whining about sexism.

In her new memoir, "Tough Choices," the expelled CEO of Hewlett-Packard - the first female head of a Fortune 20 company - describes how she insisted on going along to a business meeting at a Washington strip club when she started out as an ambitious young woman at AT&T.

"I was scared to death," she writes, adding that she wore her most conservative dress-for-success business suit and little bow tie, carried her briefcase like "a shield of honor" and repeated the mantra, "I am a professional woman," even when her cabdriver asked her if she was the new act for the club, where babes in see-through negligees danced on tables.

"In a show of empathy that brings tears to my eyes still," she recounts, "each woman who approached the table would look the situation over and say: "Sorry, gentlemen. Not till the lady leaves."

On her first day at HP, she proclaimed, "The glass ceiling doesn't exist." But she now concedes that the glass trapdoor might.

"I think somehow men understand other men's need for respect differently than they understand it for a woman," Fiorina told Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes."

The male-dominated board's handling of her exit was "heartless in some ways and disrespectful in other ways," she said. "Maybe they took great pleasure in seeing me beat up publicly for weeks and weeks."

Other controlling blondes, like Hillary Clinton, Martha Stewart and Tina Brown, were slapped back after great success (in a trend that The Times' Alessandra Stanley dubbed blondenfreude), and Fiorina now thinks she was victimized by gender.

"In the chat rooms around Silicon Valley, from the time I arrived until long after I left HP, I was routinely referred to as either a "bimbo" or a "bitch," she writes. "Too soft or too hard, and presumptuous, besides." She adds: "I watched with interest as male CEOs fired people and were hailed as "decisive." I was labeled "vindictive."

She reels off things that offended her: The editor of Business Week asked her if she was wearing an Armani suit. She felt adjectives such as "flashy," "glamorous" and "diamond studded" were meant to make her seem superficial. (Who doesn't like being called glamorous?) Stories referred to her by her first name. There was "painful commentary" that she'd chosen not to have children because she was "too ambitious."

"When I finally reached the top, after striving my entire career to be judged by results and accomplishments," she concludes, "the coverage of my gender, my appearance and the perceptions of my personality would vastly outweigh anything else."
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.


Alysyn Ayrica said…
Thanks for this, Michele.

How funny that you had told me many times about how you've had to "play the game", as it were, working, yourself, in a male-dominated industry. It seems that Ms. Fiorina attempted from the very beginning to play their game, and even though she was able to fight her way to the top, some things just refuse to be dominated... like men's egos.

There's just way too much that can be said on that topic...
Michele Angelique said…
Yes indeed, Carly Fiorina and the few other rare female icons who've been top execs in corporate business, have systematically been torn down, one by one, by the male sharks at the top of the ladder. This is getting to be too frequent to be happing by chance. It breaks my heart, and outrages me to no end.

Carly Fiorina, who brough Hewlett Packard into record profitability, growth, financial prosperity on all levels, was hated by her male peers. This woman has lived and breathed nothing but her career for all her adult life, and acheived tremendous success at that. She fought her way through the "glass ceiling", only to get hooked by the "glass trapdoor". This is why I intend to make my own way as an independant businesswoman.

After a flawless career with record achievements, HP axed Carly Fiorina publicly without even so much as a conversation or a reason. This was spiteful and vindictive, evidencing hatred toward her for the years she had "power" over them. To me, this is a GENDER issue, she was discriminated against throughout her entire career because of her gender, and finally was brought down because of it. Coincidentally the same Hewlett Packard board did the same thing to another of their top female executives, Patti Dunn.

This is the bigger picture of the gender imbalance, which all women, genetic or otherwise, should be aware of. If you want to see hardcore, blatent gender discrimination, right in our own backyards, just look at the corporate world. Look at the boards of directors on the Fortune 500 companies, and count how many are women. The gender disparity in these positions of power is horrifying.

And remember, transwomen will only be fully accepted as equal members of society once the entire female gender is recognized as such. So genetic and transwomen are in this together, on the same side, and it's a common goal. As such we need to recognize and support ALL of our sisters in the pursuit of gender equality.

In sisterhood,

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