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Heather Arnet Headshot

This Is What a CEO Looks Like

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While on Facebook yesterday morning, I was interrupted by a pop-up asking me to "fill in my profile" by adding my work title at the Women and Girls Foundation. "Sure," I thought, "Why not?" When I typed "CEO" into the field, it showed an icon of an old white guy in a suit with the words "Chief Executive Officer" next to it. I could not add my title without selecting the image of this guy to reflect it. Ugh! It just felt both shocking and insulting at the same time. How strange that a company with a notably young and vibrant CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sheryl Sandberg as its CMO, instructing career women everywhere to Lean In, should be using an outdated, racist, sexist, and ageist image of what a CEO should look like?

I was not the only one who was going to have a problem entering in my title on FB. While certainly the ethnicity of the CEO pic left out all of the emerging ethnically and racially diverse CEOs in America and across the globe, it also would prove problematic for all of our guy friends who are awesome admins and who would have to live with this as the image when they enter secretary as their occupation.

Clearly, the designers at FB had not read, Steve Tappin's article "End of Days for White, Male, Stale, CEOs," where he argues,

We are about to witness an unprecedented leadership shift over the next decade away from the dominance of white, male, stale CEOs currently occupying the current Fortune 500 CEO roles. Expect a transformation: the two-thirds of Western CEOs who are really professional managers -- incrementally optimizing their companies around the short-term -- will go. They'll be leapfrogged by a new breed of CEOs running on an emerging market fuel, powered by dreams, entrepreneurship, innovation and belief.

And perhaps the FB team, in addition to reading Lean In, could also read this smart piece by Ernst & Young about women as the next emerging market.

I knew FB could serve its members better than this. So, luckily, I posted something (fittingly) on FB to raise awareness of the issue. My friend Audrey Russo, the CEO of Pittsburgh Technology Council, then reached out to her friend Sheryl Sandberg and within a couple of hours -- voila, problem solved! At least for the CEO page. Thank you, Sheryl Sandberg!!! And thank you, Audrey Russo!

So, now you know why I am not linking you from this article to the pale male suit guy CEO image -- because the CEO page and icon on FB now just shows a briefcase. Fantastic. However, as I am writing this, all the other job titles on FB still have demographically charged stereotypical images.

I imagine in the coming days Sandberg and her team may make them all go away. So, why does this all matter? Because images matter. Icons matter. They define our world for us. They show us what authority looks like. What norms look like. They tell children whether their aspirations are possible or fantasies. They tell us, as individuals, as leaders, as executives, whether our accomplishments are the norm, or are outliers.

Come on people, we can do better than this. So, today I encourage you to share this article on your FB page, and take action by sending some feedback to FB letting them know that you applaud the change they made yesterday to the CEO page and that you would like them to change all of their current demographically charged images of work titles to non gendered non race specific images. Let's keep all options available to all people please. Get to work friends!