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Sexism or lack of execution? Rumbles continue in Greene’s wake

Perhaps her greatest accomplishment has been to not only survive, but thrive, in the macho male world of EMC. Joe Tucci is an intelligent, honorable human being – I know firsthand – but it will take a long time before sexism no longer exists in this industry. Diane Greene beat the odds and thrived in an industry stacked against her, in one of the more good ole boy male dominated companies in a male dominated business world. –Steve Duplessie, “Kudos Diane Greene“, July 8, 2008.

As he is wont to do, Steve Duplessie ruffled a few feathers with that comment.

But no amount of indignance from EMC’s side of this story has stopped the speculation about whether Greene’s gender among male egos at EMC played a role in her dismissal. The Register’s Ashlee Vance put it this way:

We suspect that Tucci became less enamored with Greene’s style as VMware’s fortunes rose. He would have very little leverage over the firebrand in Palo Alto. She was responsible for making him look good. She wanted too much control of this VMware gem. She caused too many headaches. People kept thinking maybe she should have the EMC CEO post. Ultimately, she had to go.

Lucky for Tucci, investors, as they are wont to do, set unrealistic expectations for VMware. The company had doubled revenue every year since its birth. Why expect that party to end just because VMware’s revenue had swelled past $1bn? Why think that Microsoft entering the market with a server virtualization product tied to Windows would harm VMware’s fortunes?

So, with VMware failing to meet these insane goals, Tucci found the opportunity to justify Greene’s dismissal as a business decision when it’s anything but.

Well, is it, or isn’t it, though? Where do you begin to separate communication style from effective leadership? If what Vance calls Greene’s tendency to be “short” extended to sales calls with potential customers, for example, I can see the argument that personal style impacts business performance. The exec she’s being replaced with was once third in command at Microsoft, bolstering EMC’s argument that he’s the better candidate for steering the company at this stage of its growth.

But unfortunately, EMC has itself to blame for public perception on this issue. Last fall, news of a lawsuit brought by two female former EMC sales employees surfaced in the Wall Street Journal. And it was ugly. It may have been limited to a single sales office and sales manager, as EMC insisted in the wake of the WSJ report, but the company still faced questions about how this kind of behavior had been tolerated at all.

More recently, further discrimination allegations have come out, this time from a male employee who alleges EMC retaliated against him for trying to act on behalf of female employees who felt they were discriminated against. (EMC says he downloaded confidential information before leaving the company and hasn’t given it back.)

There are two sides to every story, and you don’t have to look very hard for sexism in the IT industry (and many others). But there’s no denying that EMC has been accused–and it’s not just a single complaint. 

EMC blogger Storagezilla responded to Duplessie’s comments with “We’re not in the 90’s anymore, Steve. Change the tune…one wonders for how long the company should apologise for behaviour it has corrected and works to ensure is never repeated every day of every year?”

But these most recent allegations about discrimination weren’t filed in the 90’s. The first two women filed their suit, according to the court documents, in 2004, and the public story only came to light 10 months ago. The male employee who has complained about discrimination did so this April, according to the Boston Business Journal. In answer to ‘zilla’s question, I think it’s going to take more than a matter of months for the company to have to stop apologizing or demonstrably correcting the behavior, especially when that behavior has to do with something as serious as discrimination on the basis of race or gender.

Fair or not, given EMC’s background, when a female CEO gets canned from the wildly successful company she founded and helped steer to its “unsatisfactory” 49% growth, and her “inexperience” and “lack of execution” are cited as the reasons, the tongues are going to wag.

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