Mayer & the Glass Cliff

The New York Times just announced: Marissa Mayer took the position as Yahoo’s CEO a few minutes ago. She has broken through the glass ceiling at Google only to encounter the “glass cliff”:

via Wikipedia/Univ. of Exeter:

A glass cliff is a term coined by Prof Michelle Ryan and Prof Alex Haslam of University of Exeter, United Kingdom, in 2004.

Their research demonstrates that once women break through the glass ceiling and take on positions of leadership they often have experiences that are different from those of their male counterparts. More specifically, women are more likely to occupy positions that are precarious and thus have a higher risk of failure – either because they are appointed to lead organizational units that are in crisis or because they are not given the resources and support needed for success.

The telltale signs that make this a classic glass cliff situation are:
1. It’s a position of leadership
2. The company is in crisis
3. Average or under-skilled for role

She’s inexperienced at being a CEO, and the company is in huge crisis. The former CEO’s (with lots of experience) have bailed and/or been chucked out (see: Carol Bartz). She’s also quite young. Her background is in engineering, not management. Unlike Campbell’s woman-CEO, who is very experienced, trained for the position, and the company was not in (this level of) crisis when she took over. Or, Jobs swooping into Apple when it was in the shitter. Hm. WWSJD?

Why is Yahoo in crisis?

Here are Yahoo!’s latest headlines:
450,000 Yahoo users hacked
Yahoo calls off patent battle with Facebook
Yahoo CEO resigns after resume scandal
Yahoo! founder leaves, paving way for possible sale
… and so on.

Uh, OK.

Here’s a metaphor: I see Yahoo as a tall-masted ship in the era of WW2 battleships. They lost the search wars, and have been unable to innovate at the same speed as their competitors. Now, they’ve hired a top artillery midshipman. But the ship still has cannons. See what I’m saying? She’s managed a ton of people, true, and been at a really great organization- Google- but now she’s at Yahoo!, floundering on a model built on ad revenue, a failed inbox, and corrupted data. Compare corporate acquisition strategies: “… Google products originated as services provided by companies that Google has since acquired” (Wikipedia on Google Acquisitions), whereas Yahoo has “acquired and killed” startups (Gizmodo).

Best of luck, Marissa (gulp). If she figures this shit out, I have 2X the respect for her, than I already do, and that’s quite a lot.

(photo credit: Horrible Tianmenshan glass cliff in Zhangjiajie, Hunan)

  • Melanie Archer

    I share your trepidation--I keep thinking she's like one of those inflatable clown punchbags sold as toys: she'll have to keep smiling, no matter how she's treated. And her low opinion of design means Yahoo! properties probably won't look better very soon.

    OT: where was that photo taken?!

  • That's some crazy place in China - added the credit, thanks Melanie.

    I remember when she was being *evicerated* on that old horrible snarky site Valleywag, as one of the only serious engineers -of-female-gender- at Google, and not bad looking, to boot. She survived, that's true.

  • ishak kang

    Yahoo doesn't need a professional manager.  They needed a visionary that commands everyone's respect.  Mayer is a dream candidate.  She'll be able to push Yahoo to dominate a huge market where Google can not... Entertainment! 

  • I hope- that's a good positive outcome, if it comes true. 

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