Over the last month, Marissa Mayer told Yahoo employees and media outlets that she plans to stay in her position, despite the company's recent $4.8 billion sale to Verizon. But already the business world is running a moratorium on her tenure at Yahoo--discussing the ways in which she fell short, what's next for her career, and if she was set up to fail from the beginning.
Since joining Yahoo in 2012, Mayer has been criticized both personally (for her personality and parenting practices) and professionally (for her management style and seemingly ill-advised investments). However, management experts and top executives recently told the Wall Street Journal that there's evidence women CEOs are subject to harsher criticism than men. Many go on to say that women are more likely to be hired into leadership positions during times of trouble, placing them on the edge of a "glass cliff" and setting them up for criticism and failure.
Research points to this phenomenon known as the glass cliff saying women tend to be given leadership positions when a company is in trouble, as shown by 2010 study The Road To The Glass Cliff from information and analytics provider Elsevier. Collective findings from experiments conducted in both Germany and the U.S. said 62 percent of participants picked a man to lead a healthy company, and 69 percent chose a woman to turn a company around in a crisis.
"She will be more likely to fail and we don't see it as due to the conditions she was entering the position under," says Nyla Branscombe, co-author of the study. "Rather we'll see it as, 'Well, women just can't do it.'"
When it comes to leading a company's turnaround, women get a harsher treatment because "we are just learning how to understand women as leaders," Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean at Yale School of Management, told the Journal.
They're 'just learning' because only 4.4 percent of S&P 500 CEOs are women, according to research group Catalyst. Women tend to lead just around 13 percent of Inc. 5000 companies year after year.
But understanding women as leaders is only one part of how criticism can become more equitable. A major part of changing the conversation around women CEOs' performance is examining the criteria on which we judge them.
Take for example, the measure of a CEO's likability--or employee approval rating--on the website Glassdoor. A Google search for news stories mentioning Mayer's likability ratings produces multiple stories meant to criticize her business practices--from The Wall Street Journal, CNN Money, The Washington Post and Inc.
A similar search for likability scores of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos or former Valeant CEO Michael Pearson turned up virtually no results (other than curations of Glassdoor's lists of most/least liked CEOs), despite the fact that both men's companies dominated the news for stories related to employee dissatisfaction and poor business decisions respectively.
Regardless of where Mayer's career takes her next, it's safe to say she won't escape the kind of harsh criticism--both personal and professional--that goes along with being a high profile business woman.