Marissa Mayer added another crack to the glass ceiling last week when she was named the chief of Yahoo. As the first pregnant woman to lead a major company, her appointment was hailed as a huge step toward gender equality in corporate America. However, others see her rise as part of a depressingly familiar pattern known as the "glass cliff," a term coined by academics a few years ago to describe a phenomenon in which women are more likely to be named the head of a company when it is struggling. The theory holds that successful companies almost always promote men to the corner office, while women are given a shot only when failure is almost guaranteed. And Yahoo certainly fits the description of a glass-cliff company, having flailed about for years in an attempt to compete with Google and Facebook and, furthermore, already having gone through another female CEO in recent years, Carol Bartz, who was similarly viewed as a last-ditch solution and unceremoniously canned in 2011. Is Mayer the company's next victim of the glass cliff?
Yes. She's being set up to fail: Mayer may be "headed toward a savage plunge off the glass cliff," says Nancy Hass at The Daily Beast. Recent history shows that women are recruited to lead companies almost exclusively in times of crisis, when "the deck is stacked against them." Mayer's case is particularly instructive because she had "topped out" at Google, her former employer, and may have had to resort to a less-successful company to get the position of CEO. If she can't turn Yahoo around, she may have to admit that she was set up to fail.
"Marissa Mayer states down 'glass cliff' at Yahoo"
And it could hurt women everywhere: There's no doubt that Mayer is facing a "dire situation" at Yahoo, says Christopher Shea at The Wall Street Journal. If she fails to reverse its fortunes, the effects could be devastating for women everywhere. In the glass-cliff scenario, "when failure occurs — and failure is likely from the start, in such situations — it serves to generate 'evidence' of women's inability to run companies."
"Is Yahoo's new female CEO headed for the 'glass cliff'?"
No one will blame her if she can't fix Yahoo: Sure, Mayer may have been appointed for sexist reasons, with the Yahoo board reluctant to taint "a prominent man with the stink of failure," says Helaine Olen at Forbes, but Yahoo is "considered such a mess by so many people, it's unlikely Mayer will accrue much — if any — blame if she fails to turn things around." In fact, Mayer only stands to gain, since if she can pull off a turnaround, she'll "be a superstar."
"Marissa Mayer and the glass cliff"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- The dangers of our passionless American life
- The real reason conservatives should be outraged that police killed a white youth
- 10 things you need to know today: August 30, 2014
- The amazing resurrection of Mitt Romney
- Girls on Film: Belle is one of the most groundbreaking, joyous movies of the summer
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
Subscribe to the Week