Monday, October 16, 2006

Tough Choices, Carly?

So Carly Fiorina’s memoir, Tough Choices, is out.
I haven’t read it yet, but I want to, and I’ve been watching the coverage of the book’s release with interest.

I really, really, really WANT to like Carly Fiorina. For a number of reasons: regardless of outcome, she was a powerful businesswoman; she didn’t know what she wanted to do when she was 23 either; I like her PR person, and two years removed, I’m still pretty loyal to Lucent and the people who grew up in that culture.

I want to like her. But good lord, this woman is just so unbelievably unlikable. Really. It’s like she’s following the script of “How to Appear Wholly Unsympathetic and Unsavory to People That Really Want to Believe in You.”

First, a bit of background so we can establish that I’m biased right off the bat. I worked at LU when she was named The Most Powerful Woman in Business, and I was still working there when she was named HP’s CEO. There was a lot of rah-rahing of woo-hoo-ing by the women in my neck of the woods in the PR department (you know PR – the “not responsible for P&L” place where women who don’t want to be the Most Powerful Women in Business go because we’re afraid or something like that. Nothing to do with ya know, maybe LIKING PR, but I digress). It’s nice to see one of your own be successful so we all settled into a conference room to watch her famous interview where she declared “an end to the glass ceiling.” Um, needle scratch on the record. WHAT THE FUCK? It was dead silence in the room. End to the glass ceiling? Okay, folks, I know we can argue about whether or not it’s a glass ceiling or a work/life “conflict”, but let’s just agree that nobody really likes hearing about how there’s an end to the glass ceiling by some rich white woman with no kids and a rich white husband.

* **And yes, I know about the step-kids. And yes, I know about her “humble”
beginnings. Meaning, Carly Fiorina comes from middle-class beginnings just like I do. Meaning that when you’re white and you have parents that foot the bill for a good education, you are privileged and starting off ahead of the pack. I can acknowledge this. I have no idea why the rich and successful can’t. There’s nothing wrong with using your privilege to your advantage. There is something wrong with trying to manufacture some sort of humble beginning because it’s tacky and awful to appear wealthy.

Anyway, back to my point. If I had one. After the “end of the glass ceiling” debacle, I declared Ms. Fiorina another agent of Satan and went about my business. But I do ADMIRE her, which is something entirely different. I respect what she tried to do with HP, even though she failed and I thought this book and the accompanying press tour would help me finally understand what the hell she meant by that stupid, stupid, stupid comment.

And then I read yesterday’s USA Today:

Q: When you got the HP job seven years ago, you were criticized for declaring an end to the glass ceiling. A 60 Minutes piece implied that discrimination played a big role in your firing. Is the business world sexist or not?
A: When I came to HP, I was impatient with questions of my gender. I tried to signal my belief that women can achieve more by focusing on the possibilities rather than the limitations. In my own life, plenty of men have given me wonderful opportunities.
Eighty-five percent of my employees were men, and I wanted to communicate what we had in common: a love for the company. That made me careless with language. The workplace is not gender blind. We still have different expectations for women. That's a fact. Is it a cause for me? No. But I'm a realist.
Q: That's been your position all along? A skeptic might say you played the gender card when you got fired.
A: For six years, I was named the most powerful woman in business, and each time, I said to Fortune (magazine), don't create a list. I said it is wonderful to highlight successful women because it might inspire more to go into business.
But if you create a numbered list, it implies that business is like tennis. There's a men's ladder and a women's ladder, and women compete against each other because they can't play with the big boys. That's the wrong message. I wrote a book about a long business career. Why is describing that experience playing the gender card? When a man writes about his experience, nobody says he's playing the gender card.

Careless with language? Yeah, A LITTLE BIT. Seriously. That’s all you’re going to say? I have no idea why I’m so hung up on this. In the event that I ever become successful, I don’t want to be the poster child for “Women” everywhere, but it just seems odd to me when people don’t want to discuss their “otherness” at all – maybe that’s because I’m not an Other and have always been white and the norm – I dunno. To be fair, though, I do like her answer to the second question I called out. I started my thesis looking at glass ceiling vs. work/life conflict and almost all the research out there says that women have a hard time succeeding in business because they have no mentoring programs. Women don’t help each other – they compete. And bitches, that’s just LAME.

To go back to being unfair (or at least bitchy), I’ll also thank Carly for this tidbit listed under “Fiorina’s Tips:” The workplace is not gender blind, but women get further by focusing on possibilities, not limitations. Thanks. That’s useful information. Thank God we have the Most Powerful Woman in Business around to pass that big secret on. But what do I know? I’m over here in PR and HR hiding and shirking all responsibility and not caring one damn bit about profit and loss. Insert necessary eye roll.

So I’m curious. What do you think of Carly? Anyone read the book yet? Anyone care to lend it to me? Am I focusing on something relatively miniscule and missing the big picture? I've got more to say on this but just want to get the conversation started.


bitch please said...

God knows I probably couldn't handle the balance sheet at the First Bank of Antarctica, let alone compete with Paul Wolfowitz for the Presidency of the World Bank, but from the cheap seats it seems like the gender card is all Fiorina has to play. HP's stock has doubled since she left. Her legacy there adds up to 7,000 layoffs, scaring off all the talent in Compaq's management, and getting away with $42 million of the company's money on the way out. But Carly has done a lot of good for Carly, which we must all admire in spite of ourselves. If only she would acknowledge that her gender was her central, most potent marketing tool rather than a handicap, we might be able to afford her a little respect along with that admiration.

Haven't read the book. But writing it was probably yet another "tough choice" in a long line of "tough choices" for good Carly: shut the fuck up, or take money out of more people's pockets.

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