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Sally C. Pipes - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]
C. Pipes is President and CEO, Pacific
Research Institute [go
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No Glass Floor
HP's Carly Fiorina…
[Sally C. Pipes] 3/11/05
When Carly Fiorina was recently terminated as chief executive
of Hewlett-Packard, the world's second-largest computer company,
it renewed charges that a glass ceiling and gender gap keep women
down. That is a strange response to this case, and more evidence
that gender nonsense still holds sway.
brought Carly Fiorina aboard as CEO in 1999, there were two
other women at the top of Fortune 500 companies.
Fiorina herself downplayed that reality, and told reporters that "I
hope we are at a point that everyone has figured out that there
is not a glass ceiling." Certainly no such obstacle prevented
her rise to a position for which she was not ideally suited.
degree from Stanford, for example, was not in computer science
engineering but medieval history and philosophy.
She went on to earn degrees in business and management, one from
MIT, but her subsequent career was in sales and marketing at
AT&T. She held important posts at Lucent Technologies for
a decade but Carly Fiorina was the only candidate for the Hewlett-Packard
job without direct experience in the computer business.
She got the job anyway, confirming her belief that there is
no glass ceiling. Indeed, she became a celebrity, the world's
most prominent female executive, praised as a glamorous and tech-savvy
savior of the industry. She even put herself in H-P's television
commercials. A CEO position, however, includes no guarantee of
success. In business, it's all about performance.
style, according to reports, was on the confrontational side.
fought with major shareholder Walter Hewlett, son of
company co-founder William Hewlett, over the merger with Compaq.
According to reports, Fiorina was not fond of delegating tasks
to other executives. The company's board brought this up with
her and according to a longtime observer of Hewlett-Packard,
she "adamantly refused and drew a line in the sand." Then
there was the all-important question of the bottom line.
Fiorina's tenure as CEO, the company's stock price declined
The company's board opted to let her go,
albeit with a severance package worth a reported $21.1 million.
Quickly the gender mills began cranking out the boilerplate about
how many corporate positions are held by women, and how nefarious
male "networks" exclude women from golf, drinks after
work, and so on. It was meaningless before Carly Fiorina became
H-P boss and it is meaningless now.
By all appearances, the Fiorina case has caused the gender mavens
to alter the very definition of the glass ceiling. It used to
mean that women should have top jobs in proportion to their numbers
in the population, a politically correct view that discounts
personal differences, effort, and the choices that women make.
In addition to the quota concept, the glass ceiling now apparently
means that women are to be kept in top positions whatever their
record as a leader, and regardless of whether, on their watch,
the performance of the company suffers a decline.
One of the few sensible observations came from Sharon Hadary,
executive director of the Center for Women's Business Research.
Hadary told reporters that she was delighted that a woman had
achieved such a high post and then lost it after being held to
the same standards of performance that lift and sink men. In
other words, in the business world there is no glass floor, either.
And that is the way it should be.
Other women are doing well in the top job, such as Anne Mulcahy
at Xerox and Patricia Russo at Lucent Technologies. Still others
will surely rise to CEO positions and others will surely fall,
something that happens to men every day. When a woman can fall
from such a high post without a rash of hand-wringing opinion
pieces, we will know that the gender nonsense has abated and
that common sense prevails.
Judging by the H-P case, that time has not yet come. And as
for Fiorina, despite a lack of experience in banking, she is
now in the running to be the next president of the World Bank. tRO
2005 Pacific Research Institute