Yes, Women Get to Be CEOs—But Mostly When the Company Is in Trouble

At its start, 2017 seemed like it had the potential to be a banner year for women in corporate leadership positions. In a historic first, 5 per cent of the CEOs helming the publicly traded companies on the S&P 500 index were women. (Hardly overwhelming, but still a sign of progress!)


But in recent months, executives like Sheri McCoy of Avon, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Irene Rosenfeld of Mondelez International (AKA the company that makes Oreos) have all announced that they’ll be parting ways with their companies. The common thread for each of these women—and their decisions to resign? According to The New York Times, mounting pressure from vocal investors—many of whom use their financial stake to take a hands-on approach to the company’s operations.


As the Times reported, a study from Arizona State University found that women CEOs are 34 per cent more likely to be “targeted by an activist investor agitating for a change in strategy.” After reviewing all CEO appointments between 2003 and 2013, an ASU researcher determined that 25 per cent of women had “landed in the crosshairs of such investors.”


Researchers at Utah State University concluded that women are more likely to be named CEO of a troubled corporation than men. And when they do take over one of these executive roles, they “often lacked the support or authority” to bring about much-needed change—which typically leads to a higher rate of turnover.


But it isn’t all bad news. As the Times reports, more women are joining the boards of major corporations—particularly in the Russell 3000 stock index. In recent months 32 women have joined corporate boards, bringing the total percentage of women in these leadership roles to 16.2 per cent. And more women are being tapped for executive positions, including Margo Georgiadis of Mattel and Mindy Grossman of Weight Watchers International.



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