New research shows that female CEOs and senior executive women like Jill Abramson are more likely to be abruptly fired, thrown off the “glass cliff”, than men. Researchers at Strategy& have released a report that found that women are forced out of chief executive positions more than a third of the time, while only a quarter of men in similar positions experience the same fate. Oh, by the way, women only represent about 3% of new CEOs.
An illustration of this phenomenon could be the recent unceremonious departure of Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times. Reporters everywhere are trying to get to the bottom of the story. Is this a story of classic gender discrepancy where men are seen as strong, driven, and effective leaders while women are seen as churlish, pushy and bossy? Was she a victim of the “glass cliff theory” where companies promote women to power in times of corporate crisis and then see their “management styles” as ineffective? Doing your job may not always be enough. During Abramson’s tenure, the New York Times won eight Pulitzer prizes, signups for digital increased, and the company stock doubled.
What does research show?
Women are more often hired from outside the company and women are more often forced out of the office (38% women vs. 27% men). Many of these companies still lack enough female senior executives below the CEO level who can move up to a CEO position. Companies hiring female executives from outside are also likely to be less tolerant of shortcomings than they are with executives groomed in-house. And external CEOs are seven times more likely to be dismissed after a short tenure. What happens after a female CEO is fired? The boardrooms fall back into traditional behavior – they hire white men with experience.
Sheryl Sandberg and the Girl Scouts agree on one thing – We should “Ban Bossy”. The word bossy can discourage women from seeking leadership positions. In one of Sandberg’s anti-bossy spots, celebrity Beyoncé proclaims, “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.” According to the Girl Scouts Ban Bossy National Youth Poll 2014, more than a third of girls who are called “bossy” lose interest in leading and stop making decisions or suggestions.
While women are increasing the top levels of management, there is still a long way to go. The proportion of women in the CEO position has doubled to nearly 4% in the past five years and could rise to 33% by 2040. But old habits, the gender norms of corporate leadership, remain hard to change.