Andrea Mara

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Women CEOs more likely to be fired? Here we go again

Women CEOs are more likely to be fired, according to a report by Alison Smith in the Financial Times*. Consultancy firm Strategy& carried out a study of 2,500 businesses over ten years, and found that two in five female CEOs had been fired, whereas only three in ten (27%) male CEOs had been let go during their tenure.

The study went deeper, to try to find out the reasons behind this. It uncovered that one of two factors for the higher rate of sackings was that companies felt pushed towards appointing female CEOs. They had apparently been choosing less than suitable “bolder choice” candidates, in order to satisfy “cultural and political pressure” to hire women, and in making these bad decisions, had then had to roll back by firing them.

So basically, they were trying to meet informal gender quotas – trying to do the right thing, and it had backfired. Cue sackings, cue “I told you so”.

It’s nice that the companies tried to do their best and were let down by the under-performing women.

Office Mum post: photo from The Devil Wears Prada
The token woman
(image credit imdb)

It’s worth pointing out that in any organisation – a business, a political party, a football team – the hiring and firing of CEOs is purely discretionary. That the leader can be let go after one bad result, or ten bad results. There are no rules – it’s up to the stakeholders.

Is it easier to fire someone if you’re not fully behind their appointment in the first place? Of course it is. It’s human nature to give more latitude, more time, more support to those we believe in, and to do the opposite for those we don’t.

Does it mean the women were less capable than the men? No, it doesn’t. There’s really no way to know what happened here, without looking deeply into individual case studies, and even then the opinions would be subjective.

It’s quite possible that some of the female CEOs performed less well than their male predecessors and it’s also very likely that some of them performed better. The problem with the interpretation of the survey results is that it gives companies a get-out clause. “We tried hiring a woman and it didn’t work”

Again, to stress the point, I don’t know if the women in question were bad choices; but it’s unlikely that in every single case, each of the companies had hired a women for reasons of political correctness and had then been let down by under-performance.

The other main factor, according to the report, was that women chose to leave, because boardrooms are still “overwhelmingly male”.

According to Per-Ola Karlsson, co-author of the study by Strategy&,, “From having spoken with many women in senior places, it is a difficult environment to work in, and not everyone is invariably supportive”

Perhaps this is the more credible reason? Ancient bias that still exists rather than any political correctness that went too far.


*The article “Women CEOs ‘more likely to be fired’, says study” by Alison Smith is behind a paywall





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