Glass cliff, as in is Yahoo’s Carol Bartz on one?

My friend Lisa Williams raises a good point in the comments on my Carol Bartz post. She writes: 
“Susan, do you think this is an example of the “glass cliff”?

The Harvard Business Review
recently revisited this phenomenon, where women are overrepresented in
what they call “precarious leadership positions.” That is, they’re set
up to fail by being given opportunities to lead only after a company is
in so much trouble that it’s too late to do anything except dismantle
it.

So, your determination: golden opportunity, or glass cliff?”

The HBS piece Lisa is referencing, by Sylvia Anne Hewett, summarizes a piece of British research by MIchelle K  Ryan and summarized in a BBC piece, that makes the following points:

  • Women promoted into top corporare positions–CEO, Chairman, etc–are more likely than their male counterparts to have moved into a more risky or precarious role.
  • In a study of 100 companies during a period of overall stock-market decline those  who
    appointed women to their boards were more likely to have experienced
    consistently bad performance in the preceding five months than those
    who appointed men.
  • Appointment of a woman director was not associated
    with a subsequent drop in company performance.
  • Companies that appointed a woman actually
    experienced a marked increase in share price after the appointment.
  • Poor company performance may lead to the appointment of women to positions of leadership, viz, the glass cliff.

The piece also says “Women who take on leadership roles may be more exposed
to criticism than men in the same position. They may also be in greater
danger of being held responsible for negative outcomes that were set in
train well before they assumed their new roles.

So, whaddya think? Did Carol Bartz step onto the glass cliff?
Or are things so bad at Yahoo! she can only make them better?

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  1. Mike The Real Mr Science says:

    The Brits are probably right about our business world’s tendency to send women executives on suicide missions, but an interesting and relevant question is “why.” I have got to assume, although without evidence, that women CEOs and COOs are not being appointed because their boards of directors want them to fail and be humiliated. I think a more basic instinct is at work. When the business war is being fought, having a kingly figure leading the company into battle is a comforting and inspiring fact: Henry V on the field at Agincourt. But when there are wounds to be licked, spirits to be raised, resources to be regrouped, we tend to look much more often to a female figure, a mother if there is one. I think that at some primal level, boards, who, after all, are themselves wounded by the losing business battle, want to look to a comforting figure that is a woman. It may be hard on women executives to be sent on these hard to win missions, but, after all, for a long, long time we have depended on our mothers to do this for us.

  2. Lisa Williams says:

    But, Mike, at least some may read you as proving my point — “we only run to Mama after we have a boo-boo.”

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