January 06, 2014

Er, No, You Don’t Have To Be ‘Hot’ To Be CEO

I am a massive fan of ELLE UK, especially having visited a recent event of theirs which championed feminism, a whole event focusing solely on talking about ways we can empower women through their life, motherhood, career decisions, wardrobe, you name it. A panel of strong give-a-shit women fronted the room and the one thing that was unanimously heard was that feminism should equal freedom. We were there to talk, debate and discuss what it is to be a modern women — fighting for equal pay, not having to look like super models all the time, and generally just trying to be taken seriously as powerful people (and not to ‘calm down, dear‘) in all areas of personal and professional life. 

I clicked a link earlier this week, on ELLE’s US site, that was titled “Hot CEOs Get More Bang For Their Companies Buck” with a thumbnail picture of Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s current CEO. I thought this had to be a sort of ironic joke, the type that the likes of Jezebel would have commented on. P.S. If I was Marissa Mayer, I’d be pretty peeved by this headline and image. It’s like someone saying at a drink’s party: “Hun, you didn’t get CEO ‘cos of your Standford University CV, it’s ‘cos you’ve got SUCH A CUTE LITTLE BLONDE BOB” …. Y’ouch.

MARIS

Ya-woo-hoo *wolf whistle*

Before I go on, I had actually found a version of the article on TIME magazine’s website even more snootily headlined “Why Hunky CEOs Make For Hot Stocks” with no sense of sarcasm or opinion, this article pretty much copies and pastes a press release slash survey from University of Wisconson economists Joseph T. Halford and Hung-Chia Hsu. Apparently the survey concludes that:

“good looking CEOs more often get the better end of merger and acquisition negotiations. From this success, they hypothesise, hotter CEOs are able to extract higher pay.”

Ew.

Anyway, I thought it was strange that TIME had just merely plunked the press release onto their website without commenting on it from any sort of point of view, but in all fairness, they don’t really dance down the street claiming to be a feminist magazine. ELLE, on the other hand, I had thought better of.

So, rather excitedly I clicked on the link (US ELLE, btw) thinking “brilliant, ELLE are going to go in there and rip this report to pieces, because hell NO do you have to be HOT to be a CEO”. This is NOT what we are trying to teach young girls. Since when do we go around saying “gather round, girls, listen up closely. If you want to be a CEO one day, you have to be seriously hot, you better start the plastic surgery right now, or better still, only eat granola bars, because there is no way you’ll get a look in if you look like that. Oh, and here’s a tip that helped me, go to your interview in a bikini.”

Let me just break down ELLE (US)’s response to this new ‘ground-breaking’ survey. The tone of it really creeps me out.

After sussing out that the report is saying that people with more “facially geometric” faces are more attractive, they go and dig up some evidence themselves, which starts off fine:

“So it came as no surprise, that when we perused Forbes’ list of highest paid CEOs, we found some pretty good-looking people.”

OK – so they sort of agree with article it seems after Sherlock Holmes-ing around Forbes. They elaborate.

“Here’s looking at you, Jeff Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner. You’re adorable. Wink. Oh, and Brady Dougan? You’ve got a fan in this office. (And of course there’s Angela Ahrendts of former CEO of Burberry and Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!.)”

First of all, they’ve dived right in with the fluffy chat of “swooning” over men in the office, because you’re RIGHT, being attractive does make the office a better place! (And put the women in brackets – they’re OK too apparently).

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“Don’t you just LOVE my facial symmetry?”

Then it gets worse. Not only do they not even try and mention the fact that BEING A CEO IS SORT OF ALSO DOWN TO SKILLS AND EXPERTISE, they are clearly brainstorming in the office to see what else being beautiful would benefit you from in the office. Oooh, wait, maybe you could deceive even more people INSIDE your office with your good looks (because being good looking doesn’t just get the clients you know, oh no, you must think outside the box, naive readers):

“It does make one wonder if it works both ways. It may be proven that, to the outside, a beautiful CEO gives shareholders more confidence, but what does it do for those internally?”

No, no NO! This is blatant encouragement of the fact that being “beautiful” will make everyone believe in you and you will get promoted off the back of it. It’s just not the right message. It’s the casualness of the reply that gets me, like yeah, obviously a beautiful CEO brings in the dollar bills – duh. 

And in true consumer magazine style, ELLE leaves their readers on a thought-provoking note, by once again relating everyone back to celebrities:

“How hard would you work for Brad Pitt? If coming into work every day meant reporting to Ryan Gosling, do you think you’d perform better? Would you work later hours for Jessica Biel? Or would you cower in fear, become super self-conscious, and spend more time contemplating your outfit than taking notes at your weekly staff meetings?”

Please tell me I am not going mad here, but I’m not quite sure why more people are not challenging this more. Read that sentence above again. WORKING LATER HOURS FOR JESSICA BIEL. In a nutshell, I’m not keen on the casual responses and the lazy nodding along from lots of online sources, especially from my favourite women’s magazine.

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  • With you on this one. This really gets to me. At least you live in England, here in France I once got asked “what will you be wearing” by a superior, in reference to an extremely important presentation I was co-hosting. I was shocked and replied “my best jogging suit” and left the room. I feel like female directors are few and far between due to this attitude.

  • Totally agree with this. Unfortunately in quite a few places, being good looking gets you further. When I got my current job, within the first week someone said oh yeah – they always hire young girls with blonde hair. I was like um, excuse me?! I’m actually more than qualified to do this job, thanks very much!

    Thanks for highlighting that this attitude towards people is really NOT okay.

    Katie <3

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