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Racing Towards Corporate Heights: Are the Odds Against Women and Racial Minorities?

With the recent headlines of Yahoo’s CEO stepping down, is the corporate world not in favor of women and minorities who are yearning for high executive positions?

There’s a double strike against me: 1) I am a racial minority and 2) I am a female.

Committing myself to a 70-hour workweek and being a full-time student with an educational plan of obtaining my Doctorate in Business Psychology, I am whole-heartedly striving to check mark off a few of my career aspirations.

My Father questioned me a few weeks ago, asking if I was inviting too much stress into my life with these heavy time committed activities. Honestly, there are days where I intensely feel like I’m losing my sanity and vivid moments where my exhaustion results in me being a complete irrational emotional mess (I literally had to apologize to my co-worker yesterday for my unacceptable behavior).

In the end, are my efforts going to be worth it? (I unfortunately ask myself this all the time).

Let’s reference back to Yahoo’s CEO resignation. I was appalled when I came across the article titled: “Is Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer a failure?”. Before even reading the content, I thought how disgustingly judgmental this title is. Captivating? Yes, I obviously clicked on the link. However, how condescending it is to label someone as a failure, especially when we’ve never even been given the intensive duties they were given? (Cava and Weise, 2017).

The consulting company, Strategy&, has concluded that: when women fail, companies route back to tradition (Bershisky, 2014). A study by Utah State University has found that Fortune 500 companies easily replace female and minority CEOs with Caucasian men. The researchers, Ali Cook and Christy Glass of Utah University, conducted three separate studies looking at the ways that women and minorities secure leadership roles. Published in trade journals, Strategic Management Journal, Social Problems, and Group, Worth, & Organization, their findings examined the glass cliff theory. This theory holds that companies are more likely to appoint minorities or women to leadership positions in times of hardship. The two Professors coined this the “savior effect”.

Perceiving it as their only chance of landing a high executive position, women and ethnic minorities are more likely than traditional applicants to accept a CEO position at a troubled company, Glass says. Traditional applicants, on the other hand, most likely will decline the offer, with the belief that the offer is too risky. From a different perspective, females may be sought out for CEO positions as they are often thought to be more upbeat; therefore, purposely hired to hopefully motivate a shaking company into success (McCullough, 2014).

Find snippets below of women and a male minority who entered their CEO position when the company was severely failing:

Being Yahoo’s seventh CEO, Mayer stepped into her position when Yahoo was a sinking ship. “The company was in such chaotic shape that you would have needed someone with the temperament and intuition of Steve Jobs to even have a chance at a turnaround. Her biggest mistake might have been taking the job. It was a suicide mission,” says Paul Saffo, tech world observer and forecaster.

Aswath Damodaran, a Professor of Finance at New York University, was asked if Mayer was a failure or if she was handed a ridiculous task. “Both…She was given the impossible job [of turning around the troubled internet pioneer]. But at the same time, she took it on, said she would change things, and failed” (Cava and Weise, 2017).

Robert Nakasone, an Asian American, took over Toys R Us in 1998, while the retailer was suffering seven straight quarters of declining profits. After the company stabilized a bit, former CEO Michael Goldstein was reinstated. Toys R Us announced that Nakasone resigned from his position due to minor differences, but Fortune Magazine states otherwise: “But Nakasone’s abrupt exit was not his decision, nor was it amicable. And his clash with the board was not about differences concerning the direction of the company. It was about who’s to blame for running the company into the ground, him or them. Nakasone is out, but the question remains: Who was the problem?” (Brooker and de Llosa, 1999).

Patricia Russo, former CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, fits both the glass ceiling and savior effect. Fortune.com writes that her planned resignation wasn’t so surprising “…given her unending tide of challenges: intense industry competition, out-of-control costs, cultural clashes following the 2006 merger of the American and French companies. This simply wasn’t manageable for a chief who, despite her impressive record as a turnaround champ at IBM and then AT&T , didn’t satisfy investors on either side of the Atlantic” (sellers, 2008).

Carly Fiorina proudly proclaimed that “there is no glass ceiling” when she was brought on as CEO at Hewlett-Packard. Seven years after her initial entrance as CEO, she said in an NPR interview: “It sounds so naïve, but the thing that frankly surprised me the most was how much attention people paid to the fact that I was a woman”. She said she was surprised the media and many of her employees were more interested in her gender, rather than her objectives for the company.

Similar to what Elizabeth Dickinson, Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, asked: are these women and minorities judged for the quality of their work, the value of their skill set or their (impressive) experiences? Or are they first judged for being a female or a colored individual? (McCullough, 2014).

Jan 12 2017 at 11:00 PM Updated Jan 12 2017 at 11:00 PM, 12 mins ago, 41 mins ago, & 56 mins ago. (2017, January 12). Is Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer a failure? Retrieved January 15, 2017, from http://www.afr.com/leadership/is-yahoos-marissa-mayer-a-failure-20170112-gtq34j

Patricia Russo. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2017, from https://conferences.law.stanford.edu/directorscollege2017/speakers/patricia-russo/

Sellers, P. (2008, July 29). Pat Russo’s not so startling fall at Alcatel-Lucent. Retrieved January 15, 2017, from http://fortune.com/2008/07/29/pat-russos-not-so-startling-fall-at-alcatel-lucent/

Toys Were Us The bad news keeps on coming at the nation’s biggest–oops, second-biggest–toy retailer. Fixing it won’t be child’s play. – September 27, 1999. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2017, from http://archive.fortune.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1999/09/27/266198/index.htm

VHHS Stars: Robert Nakasone. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2017, from http://www.lausd.k12.ca.us/Verdugo_HS/j4fun/stars/nakasone.html

Women CEOs: Why companies in crisis hire minorities – and then fire them. (2014, August 08). Retrieved January 15, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/aug/05/fortune-500-companies-crisis-woman-ceo-yahoo-xerox-jc-penny-economy

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Written by Chrissy

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When asked to describe this California native, her friends utilize the following: sweetly thoughtful, highly ambitious and (embarrassingly) quirky.

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Racing Towards Corporate Heights: Are the Odds Against Women and Racial Minorities?