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Bartz's exit has nothing to do with gender

Posted by Rob Anderson  September 9, 2011 02:38 PM

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1315354257_4242__480x300.jpgNobody, not even Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, could have been surprised that she was fired. Public reports suggest the company's board had been planning her ouster as early as this summer. And maybe she deserved it, but the story is no longer about her performance as CEO. Her public response to her exit — hurling choice words at Yahoo's board of directors and calling its members "doofuses" in Fortune magazine — will now be the barometer of her tenure.

If we had gone to business school, we are pretty sure that we would have learned that her strategy is inconsistent with everything taught in management courses. And much is being made about whether Bartz's comments are "good or bad" for women leaders; did it expose, or suggest, an unhinged hysteria lurking behind every powerful woman?

But to view Bartz's comments as a gender issue is remarkably, well, gendered. Plenty of male business and political leaders are known for their bad attitudes, arrogant disposition, and potty mouths. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a legendary penchant for the f-bomb. His brother Ari is the model for the trash-talking, insult-slinging Ari Gold on HBO's "Entourage." Both are viewed, not as representatives of maleness, but as quirky characters whose intensity has served them well, no matter how it makes other people feel.

With Bartz, how other people feel is not the issue. There is no indication that she was ever disrespectful to employees or managed with terror. She had fundamental differences with her board, as she defended Yahoo's continuing second-rate status in light of her long-term approach to diversifying the company's brand in order to save it. Bartz's conduct was, instead, a reflection of how the Board treated her. She received the news by phone call from a Board member, who was reading a script (with, one can assume, a bevy of lawyers surrounding him). Which makes you want to say to the Board: be men about it, and tell her to her face.

Indeed, if Bartz's saga bears any lesson for young women rising up the corporate ladder, it may be this. There is something empowering about a woman who knows she will lose a couple million dollars for any conduct in violation of an anti-disparagement rule, who can afford to retire with grotesque amounts of money, who does not need to work again, saying what so many of her working class sisters want to say but can't: Shove it. Indeed, there are probably a number of men applauding her conduct as well. No, her exit won't get her another job quickly. But she doesn't need one, anyway.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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