Fiorina: Surprised by media focus on gender

A headline that proves the point, we must admit
Written by Jo Best, Contributor on

A headline that proves the point, we must admit

As chairman and CEO of HP Carly Fiorina gets more than her fair share of attention but as the industry's most high-profile female, she's still finding that the media spotlight is squarely trained on her because of her gender.

And while it's something that's providing an endless source of fascination for the business media, Fiorina has said that it’s something she rarely thinks about it. "One of the things that I was very naïve about when I came to HP was that I was totally unprepared for and quite caught off-guard by the amount of publicity and scrutiny, in particular around my gender. It remains one of the most difficult parts of the job.

"I am disappointed to have to say: Yes, [I am treated differently as a woman]. I would not have said that four years ago. I thought that we had gone beyond that. But I think it did make a difference during the proxy battle and it does make a difference still. In the end it's irrelevant to the job I have to do. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about it. But I think there is a real difference in media treatment," she said.

And it's not just Fiorina that cops for it at the hands of the press, she revealed in an interview with the FT today. "There's an opportunity to commiserate with other female CEOs," she said. "Marjorie Scardino [head of Pearson] and I have laughed at press coverage of the two of us."

Having a clear sense of perspective seems to have served Fiorina well during the HP-Compaq merger, when industry figures questioned if she was up to the job. But with strong results announced for the company today, you could be forgiven for thinking Fiorina has helped give the firm a much needed overhaul.

She wouldn't disagree. Speaking in the same interview, she said: "Compaq tended to be fast and aggressive, which is good in a fast-moving market. The downside was Compaq lacked judgement. Sometimes they had to do things over and over because they hadn't thought it through. We said: 'The goal is to be fast and thorough.' That's how we got through the integration. I don't think the timing was luck, I think it was choice.

"People asked me: 'Why would you do this in a downturn?' We chose a downturn because it gives us time. Customers and competitors aren't moving as fast. We will spend our time doing the tough things we have to do, so when the economy begins to recover we will be ready."

Dealing with macho culture doesn't seem to be throwing Fiorina off her stride. In managing Lucent's acquisition of Ascend - a company with more than its fair share of testosterone – she famously gave a speech to the new employees with several rolled up socks down the front of her trousers.

"It was a very macho culture kind of culture, they'd thought they'd been taken over by a bunch of wimps and that they were going to run the place and I needed to tell them who was in charge. I was making a point and I made it extremely effectively and in a way that made them laugh."

She added: "You've got to have a little humour sometimes too."

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