February 11, 2005
The Rise And Fall Of A Working Girl
According to Lawrence Fisher’s piece in Salon (link), the demise of Hewlett-Packard’s CEO Carly Fiorina had nothing to do with gender and everything to do with hubris.
To those who will inevitably say that Carly has been singled out for harsh treatment because she is a woman, nonsense. Anne Mulcahy of Xerox, Meg Whitman of eBay and Carol Bartz of Autodesk, among others, have all shown that a Y chromosome is no prerequisite to performing the CEO’s role with quiet competetence. What these leaders share besides their gender is they don’t make promises they can’t possibly keep.
That being said, the image that accompanied the article is stunning in it’s sexual innuendo.
I actually remember seeing a different photo published from this speech Fiorina gave at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. In that shot, the scale between Carly and the projected Carly was so accentuated, it seemed to jump out as a prime example of the super-sized egos you find at the pinnacle of the corporate world. Especially those, I assume, the top of the tech, or the Fortune 50 ladder.
My sense it that something is culturally resonant in the demise of Carly Fiorina right now.
One reason I say that is because I was planning to analyze the lead image on Fiorina that appeared in Thursday’s NYTimes business section — although I hardly ever focus on business. (I don’t even have a designation for it in my category list.) At the same time, I got an email this afternoon from a reader named Paul who has spent the past seven years working at HP. He directed me to this picture, and wanted to know what I thought. (He added that most of the Fiorina pics in the media in the last day seemed to range from unflattering to evil.)
I’m actually interested in your thoughts on this image. I don’t really have a clear take, except to say that people seem to derive a special satisfaction when these giants fall, and one clear and easy way to drive the stake, when you have a fallen female executive, is to sexualize it. If, as Fisher says, Fiorina never cared about HP, but was only aiming to boost her own near-term credentials to segue into big-time politics, perhaps the cheapest visual shot to take — and I consider this visual a very cheap shot — is to reference the other kind of working girl.