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Don’t Judge a CEO – Or A Magazine – By Its Cover

Gail Becker 22 Aug 2013

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, did it. So did both founders of Google, as well as Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Not surprisingly, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, even did it on the cover. Yes, each of these attractive, successful and stunningly smart men graced the pages of GQ magazine…so why shouldn’t Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer do the same in Vogue?

The debate over that question left me both perplexed and bothered as the twittersphere took on the question of whether Mayer’s photo shoot in Vogue was ‘CEO appropriate?’ Apparently, Mayer’s photo spread is actually “controversial,” with some claiming it detracts from the 3,000 word article highlighting her success in a male-dominated industry.

Ironically, the only other time I’ve heard that argument is in relation to one other famous magazine filled with lots of pictures of attractive women stretched out on chaise lounges wearing stilettos. Heck, I’ll admit it, too. When it comes to fashion, I mainly look at the pictures.

In CNN.com’s storyabout the ‘controversy’, writer Doug Gross cited some of the recent Twitter chatter on the subject:

Nothing says, 'I'm a powerful woman' like a photo of you upside down on a weird couch," Stan Horaczek, an editor at Popular Photography, said on Twitter. "Nice work, Vogue."

"Being equal means you can be (feminine) AND smart," wrote online business consultantAngie McKaig. "However, still wincing over Marissa Mayer all stretched out for Vogue."

Marissa Meyer, who is described in the profile as an “unusually stylish geek,” shouldn’t be the embodiment of the female CEO. But as one of the tech industry’s most high-profile woman, her every image and every action seems fodder for debate and debacle. I am guilty as well, having blogged about her new telecommuting policy,but also about the unfair media coverageof her assuming the CEO role while pregnant.

In today’s celebrity-obsessed, mediagenic world, CEOs can take on a celebrity profile and Hollywood doesn’t help much when it creates entire movies about them -  ‘Jobs’ is a hit in theaters now and ‘The Social Network’ was nominated for an Academy Award.

To be fair, we might take note when certain executives show up to the boardroom in flip flops and hoodies, or will only wear black. And yet, we don’t think – or look – twice, when the camera allows us a peek of them in their Super Bowl luxury box or, grace the cover of Cigar Aficionado? Why can’t fashion be a thing too?

I recently met a regional CEO of a Fortune 500 company who told me that the head of HR recently pulled her aside to ask if she thought the high-heeled shoes that she was wearing were appropriate or “sent the right message to her employees?”

Corporate America is not the only one to blame as media coverage of global women leaders consistently focuses on what they’re wearing.  And it goes beyond Hillary’s pantsuits. Look at the opening line of this recent NBC News story on President Park Geun-hye of South Korea by Ian Williams.

SEOUL, South Korea – From her tough talk on North Korea to her penchant for large brooches on her power suits, South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye has done plenty to become known as South Korea’s“Iron Lady.”

The truth is I used to dress like a man at work. I’d don loose fitting clothes, big shoulder pads, blouses with ties. I used to think that’s how to succeed in man’s world, if you can’t look like one, then dress like one. Then I got older, wiser… and discovered boots. The kind that helped me feel taller and inspired this blog titled “Yes, I Can Walk in These.” The word “Yes” is important as it implies a reply to a question. Can you really walk in those? Yes, I and countless others - can walk, run and even successfully work - in these. 

I don’t know what place the debate over this CEO fashion spread will hold in the evolution of women in business or media’s coverage of them,  but I do know that the words of Anna Holms in her Time.com column inspire:   

The debate “makes me yearn for a time when female competence in one area is not undermined by enthusiasm for another, in which women in positions of power are so commonplace that we do not feel compelled to divine motive or find symbolism in every remark they make, corporate policy they enact or fashion spread they pose for.”

Yes, now that is something to yearn for…far more, I might add, than anything one might see in the pages of Vogue

Gail Becker is chair of Edelman Canada, Latin America and US Western Region, and serves as chair of Edelman’s Global Women’s Executive Network (GWEN). 

Category : Corporate

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