Letter from the CEO – Is there really a “glass cliff?”

The recent firing of Jill Abramson, the New York Times’ first female executive editor, fueled a spate of articles assessing, analyzing and even tearing into the debate.

For her part, Abramson showed remarkable resilience in a post-dismissal commencement speech to Wake Forest University graduates, which the Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove described as “unlike the disposable boilerplate of many such orations” by showing “the human capacity to bounce back from adversity.”

“What’s next for me? I don’t know,” she said. “So I’m exactly in the same boat as many of you. And, like you, I’m a little scared, but also excited.”

Despite that “show-what-you-are-made-of” perspective her father nurtured during his lifetime, Abramson’s next job will come with nagging questions about her management style and further inform the argument as to whether women, more often than men, are put in positions to fail by being promoted in times of crisis.

“AWEE’s mission is to pull women out of the shadows and

prepare them for workforce opportunities…”

Catalyst, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to expand opportunities for women and business through “more inclusive workplaces where employees representing every dimension of diversity can thrive,” reported in early May that women currently hold only 4.8 percent of both Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 CEO positions. Among those companies: IBM, HP, Archer Daniels Midland, PepsiCo, DuPont, General Dynamics, Xerox Corporation and Lockheed Martin.

Researchers Susanne Bruckmüller at the University of Erlanger-Nuremberg and Nyla R. Branscombe at the University of Kansas wrote that “the glass-cliff concept has had trouble catching on. Some critics argue that women may be elevated during crisis for perfectly good reasons – for instance, because they tend to have skills that are suited to crisis management. Others say there isn’t enough evidence to show that women are likelier than men to be promoted amid difficult circumstances so that they will be set up to fail.”

A study by The Women’s College of the University of Denver and the non-profit White House Project that advances women’s leadership found that even when women outperform their male counterparts, they are still not recognized for senior leadership positions. Based on its findings, lead researcher Tiffani Lennon noted that “it will be 2085 before women are at parity with men.”

While I certainly don’t expect to be around to celebrate that long-in-coming milestone, the legacy of Abramson’s firing – and those that will, unfortunately, follow in the months and years ahead – is to continue putting an important spotlight on an issue that all too often stands in the shadows.

There’s another reason to throw light on the shadows, one that drives everything we do at AWEE: opportunity. Though Abramson’s experience has intensified the debate surrounding women at the highest corporate level, AWEE’s mission is to pull women out of the shadows and prepare them for workforce opportunities that might, in some small way, put them on a path similar to that Abramson traveled on her way to the top.

Marie A. Sullivan

President & CEO

Letter from the CEO – Is there really a “glass cliff?”
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