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After the Glass Ceiling, a Glass Cliff

Source | LinkedIn : By Stephen Dubner

Only 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. Why? Research shows that female executives are more likely to be put in charge of firms that are already in crisis. Are they being set up to fail? (Part 5 of a special series, “The Secret Life of C.E.O.’s.”)

Below is a transcript of the latest Freakonomics Radio episode, “After the Glass Ceiling, a Glass Cliff, ”modified for your reading pleasure.


If you look at a certain batch of statistics, from a certain angle, you’d think that women in the U.S. are on equal or better footing than men. Women have a lower unemployment rate than men; more women get bachelor’s degrees than men; nearly 40 percent of M.B.A. graduates are female. And what would you say if I told you that the number of female C.E.O.’s in the Fortune 500 recently hit an all-time high? It’s cause for celebration, right? But let’s look at the actual numbers. Out of those 500 companies, there were, as of early 2018, 27 female C.E.O.’s. 5.4 percent. Why? We are several decades into a revolution that brought hundreds of millions of women into the global workforce. And 40 percent of managers are women. So what’s keeping more of them from reaching the top? To be sure, it’s a complex question with a number of factors, some of which you’ve surely thought about. But there’s one you probably haven’t thought about; probably haven’t even heard of it. Let’s start … here.

Carol BARTZ: I’m Carol Bartz, I’m a retired tech exec.

We’ve been hearing from Bartz throughout this “Secret Life of a C.E.O.” series. For 14 years, she ran the software firm Autodesk. In 2009, Bartz became C.E.O. of Yahoo, which at one point was the world’s most popular web destination, with a market cap north of $110 billion. But by 2009, it was faltering. It was losing search business; it was losing display-ad business; it had controversially rejected a huge buyout offer from Microsoft. But Bartz thought she could turn things around.

BARTZ: The company was just beaten to the ground. And I really felt that I could help with that, and give us some air time to get back together.

But that is not what happened. Revenue continued to fall; the Yahoo! board, with the Microsoft non-deal still a recent memory, started having second thoughts about Bartz.

BARTZ: And they got scared and they didn’t want to be considered the worst board in the world again, and they thought, “Well, we know how to do this. We’ll just fire Carol.”

Read On….

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