Msnowe's Blog

Scary Ladies and Gentle Innovators.

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on May 11, 2011

M.Snowe read three New Yorker pieces from the latest issue last night, all in the section titled “Innovators.” The pieces were by Malcolm “breast-feeding babies and training NFL players are kind of the same” Gladwell, John Seabrook, and Anthony Lane. Their topics were Xerox, Steve Jobs & Apple, Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, and Pixar.

While M.Snowe was glad to see a lady on the list, after reading all the pieces and reflecting, she saw through the lady-coverage and realized it was the journalistic equivalent of college roster-padding in order to meet Title IX requirements. And not only that, but it carried with it the many stereotypes that follow women in business (stereotypes that don’t seem to affect men in the least). Also, let’s point out that all three writers of the pieces are men. Ish.

Let’s start on the surface, with appearances of the CEOs/Innovators.

Indra Nooyi:

“She was dressed in stylish business clothes–black patent-leather heels, a knee-length, copper-colored dress, and a short-waisted black jacket–and looked more like a media executive than a food-industry chieftain.”

Ohhh, Scary! It’s CEO Barbie! Dammit, if only she had worn that tribal dress, she would’ve looked more like a chieftain….or at least a chieftain’s wife!

Let’s check out what John Lasseter, our friendly every-man (despite his world-class animation and creative skills and business acumen) is wearing over in the Lane’s article:

“A hefty fellow of fifty-four–with a face as round and frank as a full moon, set off by scholarly spectacles–he wore a short-sleeved shirt, covered in drawings of little cars, and sucked Jamba Juice through a straw.”


And hey, check out his lil’ buddy:

“Michael Giacchino, who wrote the music for three earlier Pixar movies, stood beside him at the mixing board, in a plaid shirt, jeans and sneakers. Giacchino’s children stopped by; Lasseter turned to the youngest, bent down, and exchanged a high-five.”

Okay. So clearly, the male innovators get points for being down-to-earth, casual and unassuming. Of course, that is the way their business is run. Nooyi, on the other hand, gets ripped to shreds for her put-together, business-y attire. But you can be sure that if Nooyi was high-fiving her kids at the office and wearing a shirt with cartoons on them, the way that would be portrayed in the New Yorker would make her seem disheveled, unprofessional, and not worthy of the job at hand. She works at a corporate place and needs to conduct herself as such.

Alright, let’s move on to experience levels:

Indra Nooyi:

“Nooyi has never run one of PepsiCo’s divisions, and she hasn’t managed any of its brands. She isn’t a sales person, like many of her predecessors.”

Compared to the Pixar people:

“Docter said, ‘The entire office was green,’ adding, ‘Less than half had even used computers before.” (But the article then goes on to show how they labored and intricately detailed everything in their work, and learned the necessary technology through toil, ingenuity and sweat.)

On a woman, lack of experience inside the company is just plain bad. But for the innovators at Pixar and Apple, their lack of industry knowledge, or their absolute opposition and rejection of it, becomes a valuable asset.

Seabrook quotes Nooyi, and then he has a tendency to pepper the descriptions of their newer business ideas with buzz words, which we are led to believe are straight from Nooyi, but in quotation marks. It is so clear Seabrook is really using “air quotes.” Those air quotes are in the style of an Olive Garden claiming they sell “Real Italian Food.” The disingenuousness of his quoting is palpable.

“Nooyi has a tendency to lift words from their natural context and repurpose them to suit the needs of PepsiCo.”

Both Lasseter and Jobs (Jobs is mentioned in both other articles on innovation, unsurprisingly) are people who were told “No, we can’t do that–that’s not the way it’s done,” when they came up with new, stellar innovations. They created their own buzz words. They are then rewarded for their toils and for breaking the mold–in success, in money, and in the acclaim given by their New Yorker profile writers. Nooyi gets no such love.

Seabrook does admit that “as a long-term business strategy, Nooyi’s plan makes sense,” and then he goes on to talk about the different types of salt and sugar substitutes they are using and the truly innovative gizmos to test out what tastes good and is more healthy across the country and the world.

At one point, Nooyi and Seabrook conduct an informal taste test to see if they can tell which new Pepsi cola product actually has 60 percent less sugar than the other, regular colas. Both of them cannot decipher which of three samples is the sugar-reduced cola. Then Seabrook adds: “But I suspected that she may have lost on purpose, in order to let the product win.”

Seriously, Seabrook? You have the creative control to shape Nooyi’s image to your reading public. And when you add something like that, which casts doubt on her reliability, you are disparaging her character. This is the woman who wants to make products such as enhanced oatmeal, yogurt, and drinkable gazpacho. Yeah, she’s evil.

Now, the clear delineation here is that the companies are all very different, and those dictate the kind of treatment that each one receives. Obviously, PepsiCo deserves a different treatment than Pixar, which deserves something different from Apple and Xerox. But, Pepsi is a large business, and they innovate in different ways than a tech company would. Nooyi hired a cabinet member from the World Health Organization–a man whose main drive was to make the WHO recommend that people limit their daily sugar and salt intake. When the WHO and the United Nations refused to produce the guidelines, Nooyi brought the member on her team, and they started cutting salts and sugars from Pepsi products anyway. But with the way that Seabrook wrote it about it, you might’ve gotten the impression that Nooyi was secretly trying to sneak in trans fats or something (which she wasn’t).

Gladwell, in his piece about innovation, Xerox and Apple, tells a tale more focused on the idea of what innovation is and how you manage it than on the people themselves. But he only uses men as examples…exclusively.

It’s pretty clear that women aren’t really innovators. If you’re reading the New Yorker, that is.

Parting note:

In his article, Lane mentions “Elastigirl,” from The Incredibles, and says, “She is also the single-handed rebuke to the charge–proved elsewhere–that Pixar has failed to place female heroes at the hub of its stories.” Luckily, Pixar’s next big foray into an animated feature film will have a lead female character. But Lane, like so many, cannot seem to escape the male necessity to sexualize, and belittle: “There is, of course, another skill that she [Elastigirl] could master with her natural sinuosity, but that is never mentioned. Back in 2004, some of us in the movie theatre wanted to shout, “Bob, she’s wearing a black mask and thigh-highs. What are you waiting for, man?”

And, scene. Hey Seabrook, what are you waiting for, man?

Why does Elastigirl’s outfit description slightly remind me of Nooyi’s?