Marissa Mayer Stands On A "Glass Cliff" As Yahoo! CEO

Horrible-Tianmenshan-glass-cliff-in-Zhangjiajie-Hunan-4_thumb

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.

By Anna Billstrom (iOS & Facebook App Developer, Self)

Marissa Mayer took the position as Yahoo!’s CEO, breaking through the glass ceiling at Google only to encounter the “glass cliff” -

“A glass cliff is a term coined by Professor Michelle Ryan and Professor 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.” (via Wikipedia / University of Exeter)

The telltale signs that make this a classic glass cliff situation are:

  1. A position of leadership
  2. A company in crisis
  3. A person who is average or under-skilled for role

Marissa Mayer is inexperienced at being a CEO and the company is in huge crisis.

The former CEOs (with lots of experience) have bailed and/or been chucked out (see: Carol Bartz). Marissa is also quite young. Her background is in engineering, not management. Unlike Campbell Soup Company’s CEO Denise Morrison who is very experienced and trained for the position – and the company was not in (this level of) crisis when she took over.

Or, Steve Jobs swooping into Apple when it was in the shitter. Hm. WWSJD?

Why is Yahoo in crisis?

Here are Yahoo!’s latest headlines:

… and so on.

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.

This post was originally posted at Banane.

Photo credit: Horrible Tianmenshan glass cliff in Zhangjiajie, Hunan).

About the guest blogger: Anna Billstrom is an iPhone and Android mobile developer, specializing in social apps. She’s worked at Momentus Media, a startup that made the “8 Bit Your Pic” for Black Eyed Peas app, which saw 2 million users in 2 weeks. She’s done the gamut of OLAP DB modeling to Java development and Ruby on Rails. Follow her on Twitter at @banane.