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The Glass Cliff: Why Women CEOs Are More Likely to Be Fired


Over the past decade, 38 percent of female CEOs at the world’s 2,500 largest companies have been forced out, as opposed to 27 percent of men, according to a recent study from Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company). Why? Well, one theory is the “Glass Cliff.”


(Photo Credit: nomadic_lass/Flickr)

“According to this, women and other ‘occupational minorities,’ such as people with a different skin color, tend to get appointed to top jobs when a company needs saving,” writes Leonid Bershidsky at Bloomberg View. “When these women fail — and in a crisis, the probability of failure is higher — boardrooms fall back on tradition. They replace the women with white men who have lots of industry experience.”

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Bershidsky include Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, Meg Whitman at Hewlett-Packard, and Mary Barra at General Motors among his list of Glass Cliff hires brought on to turn troubled companies around. Barra, for example, apparently started work only to find herself in a Congressional hearing a few short weeks later, testifying about a potentially deadly ignition switch defect.

Top female execs have other things in common:

  • Compared to male CEOs, who tend to have “sheltered, idyllic childhoods,” female CEOs tend to have backgrounds full of upheaval, including long-distance moves to other countries, the death of a parent, or parents who experienced serious marital discord, including domestic violence.
  • Women tend to have “more varied professional experience” than their male counterparts, and are often brought in from outside the company.
  • Despite media coverage that tends to emphasize their financial resources and household help, female CEOs tended to take on more of the domestic responsibilities and discuss their families more often and more extensively in interviews.

In short, women who rise to the top are efficient, multitasking, well-rounded survivors who are likely to be fired and replaced by men. As Jia Tolentino of The Hairpin comments, “Coolcoolcoolcoolcool.”

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think we’ll ever have an equal number of female and male CEOs? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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