Readers React: Was sexism a factor in firing of VMware CEO?

Last week, my column asked the question of whether sexism played a role in the firing of VMware CEO Diane Greene. I felt that Greene’s departure was unusually abrupt and harsh, compared to the way such things usually happen. And by way of example, I cited the recent departure of CEO Hector Ruiz at AMD.

No bit surprise: I heard an earful from readers. But because I was on the road for a chunk of last week, I’m just catching up with some of the chatter. I wanted to post some of the more thoughtful responses here, both in support and against my central point:

Brett Ashton was one of the first to respond, and warned me what to expect:

“Hopefully you’re prepared for the avalanche of emails replying that there is no sexism (racism, etc.) in the Silicon Valley meritocracy.   The numbers don’t lie, and while I don’t think it’s ‘overt’ sexism (or racism), to me it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Until there are more diverse faces in the CEO office and boardroom, people will tend towards what is familiar to them.

I would still think that outside of ‘the right thing to do’, people would look at the profile of the global marketplace and realize that most people don’t look like the prototypical Silicon Valley person.”

Daniel Watts wondered if Greene, who stands to collect $47 million in severance, isn’t getting a better deal than Ruiz:

“Just read your article, and I disagree completely.  Greene is eligible for a $47 million severance package, while Ruiz gets pretty much the same deal he already had: $1.1 million annually, plus bonuses.

It would take Ruiz forty YEARS to earn as much as Greene will get in one lump sum.  It’s hard to spin that into sexism.

Twenty years ago, Steve Jobs (Apple) and Nolan Bushnell (Atari) were in situations similar to Greene’s. After founding wildly successful tech companies that stumbled, they were unceremoniously ousted by new owners and given no seat on the board. Booting executives is nothing new, and it’s certainly not a gender thing.  It’s a corporate thing.”

John Hogle, a freelance academic librarian, felt the column echoed what he had observed over the years:

“But, as you provide evidence, there are not that many more “equal” opportunities for women in Silicon Valley then there are elsewhere.”

“Thank you for today’s column on the less-than-covert sexism still so prevalent in business and, to my particular dismay, in the so-called egalitarian high-tech community.  Before becoming an academic librarian, I spent spent ten years working for an online database (Computer Publications Database) that covers the computer hardware, software, semiconductor, and telecommunications industries.  Over those years (1986-1996), from time-to-time I would read self-congratulatory articles on the way women were making their way up the ladder in those industries (or creating their own companies) based on their abilities because there was less of a “glass ceiling” in Silicon Valley.

Jonathan Present, a managing director in San Francisco, felt there were two many differences in Greene’s and Ruiz’s situation to make any comparison:

“This is not a valid apples to apples comparison-
Green was stubbornly refusing negotiation, she wanted to spin her company back out after selling a majority of equity, cannot have it both ways, and steadfastly refused any other scenario, she was offered other high level positions by Joe Tucci, but declined
Hector Ruiz is the victim of illegal market control by Intel, you cannot win when the game is fixed.”

For Liz Blank, the story “touched a nerve in me today…that’s a good thing.” She goes on to write:

“Well, the difference and the divide between men and women in the workplace is not much better than it was 20 years ago.

I’m in the biotechnology business…genomics, DNA sequencing, and all that. I started my career out in a scientific instruments business in a division of a well known multi-national corporation. This was in the early 1980’s. There were very few women in product marketing and management for these instruments at the time. The divide was alive and well. I spent 16 years growing in that environment and things were just beginning to look a little brighter with more women on board, but there are still few in management or positions of over-arching ‘power’. It remains the same today.”

Asheet Awasthi wrote on behalf of herself and a colleague:

We deeply appreciate that you noticed the issue of Diana Greene and gave it a rightful exposure . I wish there was a way to let her know that without personally knowing her, we really feel bad that the valley was so unfair and unjust to her. It is very upsetting. Someday, we will change the statistics in favor of women in Silicon Valley.

And finally, Marguerite Wilbur writes:

“Thank you for bringing to light another example of sexism in Silicon Valley.  Sexism is prevalent in the valley, particularly in the technology industry.  The industry’s acceptance of it stifles creative and exciting female minds every day.”

 

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  • I agree most closely with Daniel Watts. Founders are shoved aside all the time, because the board is convinced (in some cases wrongly) that they need someone new, more experienced, perhaps more bureaucratic. (Jobs vs. Spindler? Hmmm…) There is also a pool of execs you can bring in to take a growth company to the next level — I’m sure the headhunters have a standard (virtual) file drawer filled with such resumes.

    AMD is a much bigger company in a much more difficult situation. If a company faces serious structural problems and they are not resolved — think AMD, Sun, Ford, GM, Yahoo — it’s less clear that dumping your CEO will change the performance. Plus, of course, such CEOs usually have a longer track record of previous success, making it harder to decide whether this is a string of bad luck, ineptitude by the CEO, or an impossible hand to win.

 
 
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