The Glass Cliff: Are Women in Danger of Falling Off?

On January 12, 2009, Yahoo hired Carol Bartz as its CEO, increasing the number of women running Fortune 500 companies to 14. Cause for celebration, right? Not so fast. Yahoo might be the booby prize rather than the brass ring that most male CEOs covet. On January 27, the company reported a net loss of $303.4 million compared with net income of $205.7 a year earlier. Press releases warned that a less than favorable advertising market will likely continue to hurt sales intensifying the pressure on Bartz.

Which causes me to ask the following question: Are all opportunities for women good opportunities? Or should we sometimes take the Nancy Reagan approach and “Just Say No”?

Growing numbers of women are smashing through the glass ceiling, but many find themselves facing situations with a high risk of failure. Dr. Michelle Ryan and Professor Alex Haslam of Exeter University, UK, call this phenomenon “The Glass Cliff.” Their research demonstrates that once women reach the top jobs, they often experience – surprise! – a different reality from their male counterparts – more precarious, less desirable and higher risk. These high performing women are, in essence, “teetering on the edge” of a cliff. Carly Fiorina certainly stepped into a tough work environment and paid the price – even though many feel in retrospect that she made the right decisions for HP. So, should Carol Bartz have taken the Yahoo CEO position?

I respond with a resounding “YES” for three reasons:

1. Most importantly, the diversity of thought that a woman brings to the executive suite might be just what Yahoo needs to turn itself around.

2. Having more women in high visibility positions sends a message to men, other women, and future generations that we belong in these jobs.

3. CEOs set the culture of the organization. I believe female CEOs have the courage and emotional intelligence to change the dysfunctional way business is currently conducted, one company at a time.

We can’t let fear of failure get in the way of going for it. Carol Bartz certainly didn’t. Carol – you rock!

By Erin Wolf

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