Academic journal article Communication Studies

Surveillance/discipline/resistance: Carly Fiorina under the Gaze of the Wall Street Journal

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Surveillance/discipline/resistance: Carly Fiorina under the Gaze of the Wall Street Journal

Article excerpt

In July 1999, Carly Fiorina was named president and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Company, becoming the first woman to lead one of the 20 largest public corporations in the United States. In addition to being female, she was the first outsider to run the traditional, well-established computer company. Fiorina was hired from Lucent Technologies to initiate change in a corporation that had come to be perceived by investors as stagnant--an underperformer during the Internet boom (Hamilton & Blumenstein, 1999). Her journey with Hewlett-Packard (HP) was a vibrant one, marked by constant change, a merger with Compaq computers, and ultimately, her ousting from the company by the board of directors. Considered an icon among American businesswomen, her tenure at HP was well chronicled in the news media.

In this high-profile position, Fiorina drew public criticism about her work background, business strategies, and even the way she dressed. Fiorina was quick to let it be known that she did not want to be considered a female executive, but rather an executive. Brady and Conlin (2005) reported that Fiorina steadfastly denied interview requests that centered on her experience as a "female" CEO. Yet, reference to her gender could not be ignored as she took on the moniker of most powerful female CEO. Fiorina's hiring was a significant moment in the history of U.S. business culture. During a time when only eight out of the Fortune 500 companies employed female CEOs, her career was a noteworthy and newsworthy disruption to often taken-for-granted gendered leadership scripts. During her rise and subsequent fall at HP, mainstream news outlets offered widely accessible venues for the public to wrestle with (wo)men and work. Fiorina, along with other female executives, represents a relatively new discursive formation--the regime of woman CEO. As such, Fiorina's career at HP and the public discourses it engendered offer a unique opportunity to explore how subjectivities that women and men assume in the workplace take on meaning in part through the stock plots and metaphors offered in popular culture (e.g., woman as cheerleader) and how they are regulated through phenomena such as the glass ceiling.

My purpose in this essay is to explore how the public identity of Carly Fiorina was shaped through news discourse and how specific subject positions emerged from power relations that circulated among editors, journalists, and citizens who chose to enter public dialogues, including Fiorina herself. In so doing, I show how surveillance and disciplinary power are exercised through the media and the implications these processes have on the subjectification of women in high-profile positions. For professional women, that subjectification process has involved the ongoing construction of the glass ceiling, which has also been a strong concern of organizational theorists (Buzzanell, 1995). This analysis reveals how mediated representations of women and work are a significant site of glass-ceiling construction. Using a Foucauldian framework, I examine Fiorina's persona through the gaze of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), analyzing articles about Fiorina published from May 1999 to May 2005. Widely considered a leading source of business information, WSJ was chosen for its reputation as an authority on the economic environment and for the breadth of coverage it provided on Fiorina and HP.

Several organizational scholars have drawn upon Foucault to problematize how subjectivities are constructed in and through discursive formations (e.g., Tretheway, 1997, 2000; see also Tracy, 2000). This analysis expands upon this work and the usefulness of Foucault by showing how disciplinary control, surveillance, and professional identities not only occur within organizations but also in the intersections with broader social discourses. Turning to news discourse is useful to organizational communication theory in several ways. First, news media represent one entry point for critical audiences into the broader social milieu in which organizations are situated and to investigate a central problem of organizational communication, the organization-society relationship (Mumby & Stohl, 1996). …

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